Thursday, September 15, 2011

TV Review: ALF episode 7 'Help Me, Rhonda'

I am most grateful today for a PVR and Disney XD. They gave me something yesterday I hadn't seen since I was ten.

A little background. Next week marks the 25th Anniversary of a little NBC sitcom I like to call 'ALF'.

What do you mean, you don't remember it?

Well, nuts to you, because for me if was the best thing ever in the history of forever... until the ALF Animated Series came out.

Yes, I had friends! My love of this show just... drove them all away, that's all.

Neither here nor there. ALF was a very stupid sitcom about a sarcastic, narcissistic but well-intentioned glutton who is the last survivor of his exploded planet, rocketed to Earth where he... cannot leap tall buildings in a single bound and is mainly confined to the Tanner household in the L.A. suburbs. Sort of what would happen if Lucy Ricardo, E.T., and Superman were mushed together into an adorable furry couch potato full of wacky schemes. I say again, I LOVED it.

I watched it again in syndication about 10 years ago on the Family Channel where all was well until my buddy Bookmonkey spotted a frame from a (horrors!) EXCISED SCENE!
Whether for time, content, or deliberate, malicious sadism, they hacked a section out of episode 7. This has stuck in my craw ever since. All the more since it isn't on my ALF Season 1 DVD, either! It was seemingly lost for all time. I am a petty, small man, and I wanted that scene. What had it been?

I finally saw what I was missing yesterday. It was a treat called 'Help Me, Rhonda' from writers Tom Patchett and Lloyd Garver.

In his laundry basket under a map of the cosmos with a little red 'x' where one point of light had been, a 228-year-old alien is mired in the half-hour comedy version of soul-crushing depression and loneliness. ALF (Paul Fusco) regrets that a date he made with Rhonda (the furry girl of his dreams) never happened... what with all the nuclear devastation and subsequent extinction of their kind.
In an attempt to raise ALF's spirits, Willy Tanner (Max Wright) ALF's surrogate father/warden/apologist sends a plea to the heavens, specifically any meter high, eight-stomached, cat-munching ex-denizens of planet Melmac: a faint and plaintive distress signal in the form of a hit single by the Beach Boys.

Lo and behold, when all seems lost, a radio response: Bob Fappiano as the in-your-face space trucker Skip, ALF's buddy from his days in the Orbit Guard.
Skip's got the hammer down and headed for Andromeda, and he's not alone: Lisa Buckley's breathy Rhonda (with her Markie Post 1985 hair) assures ALF:

"You're the only one for me!"

So here it is. A mere three months into his extended involuntary stay on that Earth we know and love, ALF packs his bags for a new home.
I remain moved by the good-byes. Willy's impassioned "You've enriched our lives", Brian's hug, Lynn's tears. Kate's admonition to go to the bathroom before a long trip.

And so, by the logic of a sitcom, against all narrative flow and his best interest, against the best interest of an endangered species, his sex drive, his heart, and his stomachs, ALF chooses to delay his gratification, perhaps for centuries, and remains with the Tanner family. For as long as they need him.

It's a total change of premise, a shark leaped. It serves the needs of a series while distorting all reason. ALF becomes simultaneously the most loyal, devoted friend OF ALL TIME, and the worst, most inconsiderate house-guest OF ALL TIME. And a legend is born.

I was pleased to learn (after 25 years without this missing sequence) that not only did ALF's buddy Skip and Rhonda survive the big ker-blooey of planet Melmac, but so did Stella and Rick Fusterman. It seems they married and now own a tanning parlour on Mercury (nice place for it). This matters to exactly nobody: unless you loved all five of these odd little fuzzballs from their cartoon.

I'm more than a little disturbed by how happy the "lives" of a pair of ratty guest star comedy puppets made me. It was comparable to the thrill I had in 1996 when I spotted a listing for the "Project: ALF" special in TV Guide. After 6 years, a weight was lifted when I learned Gordon Shumway (ALF's discarded given name) had survived his capture by the U.S. government in the final minutes of his series. He landed on his feet, of course. Or on a cat.

Then, as now, I am both gleeful and shamed to be so invested in patent nonsense.

Happy birthday, ALF, friend of my youth.

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