|ALF'S SPECIAL CHRISTMAS (nbc, 1987)|
Why was it such a misfit?
ALF is the second most polarizing figure of our times. There are people who love ALF, and look back on his TV series and cartoons and possibly comic books with fond memories....and then there are people who HATE ALF, hate everything that has to do with him, and want everybody who loves him dead. If there's an ALF centrist, I've never met him.
To understand what makes ALF's Special Christmas such a misfit, the proper context is important. It's not the 21st century where people hate on ALF because it's the cool thing to do. It's the 1980's where if you don't like ALF, you're looked on with suspicion as a commie sympathizer. Families everywhere sat down to watch ALF every week. Every kid loved ALF, not a single kid ever missed ALF's show. Understanding this is important, because this show was about to drop a bomb on its easily startled young audience, something even worse than the last episode where the alien got caught.
(And speaking of getting caught, you can stop waiting for me to bring up "the truth" about Max Wright; it won't be addressed here. If you really don't know, you can research it on your own. But for the love of Pete, don't use Image Search.)
I've already spoken about how much I loved the ALF comic book. I hadn't seen the TV series that inspired it in quite a long time until Me-TV started airing it this year. I feared my childhood memories weren't going to hold up very well, based on what others had told me. My verdict.....it's ok. I didn't utterly despire it like some people, but I can see where the criticism is coming from. The original ALF pilot is still funny. ET was still fresh in America's mind and the family is excited about the prospect of an adorable space creature living with them. But instead of THAT, they get a belching orange furball that breaks all their things and tries to devour their cat. It would've made a brilliant SNL sketch. But now they had to repeat this joke for 102 episodes. By the time you get to Season 3 the formula has worn thin.
Unlike the comic, very few plotlines take advantage of the fact that ALF is an alien. The show could have been done with an obnoxious uncle in place of the puppet with very little script edits. Also, unlike the comic, ALF doesn't seem to be in much danger of being discovered. There is one episode where Willie wants to take ALF to a psychiatrist. So...he does. No disguise or anything -- ALF sees a human psychiatrist. He's revealed to several people in this episode alone, with no repercussions.
The special opens the way most episodes do -- with ALF being a PITA to everyone around him. He's singing an off-key variation of Twelve Days Of Christmas where all the gifts are dead cats cooked into various dishes. The Tanners think it's disgusting and shout at him to stop. No telling how long he was singing it before we faded in, but it's implied to be a while.
The family is heading out to a remote cabin to stay for Christmas. The cabin belongs to a kindly man named Mr. Foley. Back when Willie was young, his father lost his job and they couldn't pay the mortgage payments on their house, so they were kicked out -- days before Christmas. Mr. Foley took Willie and his parents in and let them stay until they could get back on their feet. Because of this, Willie has fond memories of the cabin, especially during Christmas. Mr. Foley has given him the opportunity to stay over for the holidays, and he's taking advantage. The family is okay with it, but ambivalent about how archaic the cabin is -- there's no electricity and the kitchen sink is a water well pump. ALF outright hates it for the same reasons.
Until they get there, he's under the impression that the living room TV will work -- so he brought it along. When Willie tells him he can't plug it in, ALF says "So much for the Perry Como special!" He turns up a minute later in a blue sweater and remarks that he looks like Como. How can ALF despise boring things like log cabins and adore other boring things like Perry Como? He's complex.
Kate thinks that sweater looks familiar. "It looks like the sweater I was going to give Willie." ALF tells her it IS the sweater, and that he would have put on the yellow shirt instead, but it was supposed to go to Kate. Yup, he opened up all their Christmas presents and he spoils each and every one of them in his next few breaths. Doncha just love him? ALF hands Willie a leafy branch as penance and says he found some holly outside, which they can use to decorate the cabin. For a second I thought the branch was going to turn out to be poison oak, but fortunately the special doesn't seem to be doing THAT old gag.
The Tanners then examine the remainder of their wrapped presents and find they all say "From Willie/Kate/Lynn/Brian To ALF" on them now. "I thought I'd make the shopping easier!" he quips.
"Hey Dad?" Brian suddenly says. "That's not holly....I think it's poison oak!" DAMMIT
Mr. Foley pops in for a visit. He can't stay long because he's performing his yearly charity rounds. He dresses in a Santa suit and distributes donated toys to children in the hospital. ALF wasn't in the room to hear this explanation, and so when he finds the van full of wrapped toys, he thinks "paydirt." When Mr. Foley drives off, ALF is trapped inside.
Foley puts on his Santa
suit and wheels the mountain of toys into the hospital
children's ward, with ALF as the centerpiece. His only
chance is to stay motionless and pose as a toy, as he did
many times in the comic. The kids huddle around and pick
their gifts. None of them seems to be interested in the
ugly doll in the center, so ALF may just get out of this
-- until a girl named Tiffany points to him.
Tiffany has decided the "doll" is female and gives her the name Amanda. After the lights go out for the evening in the hospital, Tiffany decides to play dress-up with Amanda, starting with earrings that'll have to be rammed through ALF's ears. That's when he's had enough!
"MY TOY CAN
TALK!" Tiffany exclaims with joy. "I can't wait
to tell the nurse!"
The next day, she does
just that, and ALF has his ticket out. But before Foley
leaves, he stops for a chat with a doctor friend, and
asks about his patients.
"I've done all I
can do. She won't see another Christmas."
That's correct, folks. The bomb has just been dropped. When they put the word "Special" in "Alf's Special Christmas," they meant "Special" in the 80s television sense, as in "Tonight Webster meets a pedophile." The center focus of ALF's Special Christmas is a TERMINALLY ILL CHILD. Normally when holiday specials do things like this, there's a bit of hope established for the future, and a generally happy ending occurs at the end. But with this scene, a good ending is established as impossible. This girl is GOING TO DIE.
And they stick it in your face! ALF can't bear to let their one brief exchange be the end, so he sneaks back to her room. She is fully aware of her fate, and they have conversations with cheery subjects like the fear of going to sleep and never waking back up. It's scored with a dreary chorus of "Silent Night." Ho ho ho, kids! Merry Christmas!
The actress who plays Tiffany kind of blankly recites her lines, but in this case, that's a good thing. If I really believed this kid was dying, I wouldn't be able to sit through this. The fact that she's mostly interacting with a weird-looking puppet doesn't lessen that. ...Actually, the dedication at the end of the episode implies this character was based on a real kid. Drat.
They pull every sappy and sentimental trick in the book, up to and including ALF and Tiffany joining hands at the end and saying they love each other. That was quick.
Meanwhile, the Tanners have finally realized ALF is missing. Before they go out looking for him, Willie opens an envelope Mr. Foley left in the cabin. It's the deed to the whole place, meaning Foley just gifted it to the family for Christmas. He's been established already as a pretty generous man, but this seems a bridge too far. There is actually a perfectly good explanation for why Foley would do this; you see, he---never mind, I'm getting ahead of the story. Just trust that it's just as depressing as everything else.
Because ALF had to abandon his escape plan for that little side trip of anguish, he needs a new one. He sneaks down an empty hallway, but when human voices approach from behind the corner, he hides under the curtain of a gurney. Two doctors, a man and his pregnant wife show up. She's clearly in labor and he's in panic mode.
Unbelievably the elevator door closes after the woman is wheeled inside, but before anyone else can enter including the man. The very next thing that happens is the elevator getting stuck. If a creature from space hadn't accidentally fallen in with a bundle of toys, been donated to a dying little girl, and touched all his hearts so much he needed closure, this lady would've had to deliver her own baby. Luck was on her side tonight!
ALF emerges from under the gurney disguised in protective surgical gear, but it apparently isn't enough. The woman immediately lets out a scream.
Then again, maybe this
woman isn't so lucky. ALF is horribly out of his league
with no experience.
While Denise pushes, ALF pulls a book from out of nowhere called "Having Babies," which from that title probably covers more than just the birthing process. But hey, now he should know where they come from!
"How about you name
the baby Gordon?"
This whole sequence was rather light compared to the rest of the special, but before you get tonal whiplash, we'll be returning right back to the misery quickly.
As Mr. Foley is leaving,
the doctor approaches him. "I want to talk to you
about this 'present' you just gave me."
ALF thinks he's on his way home, but Mr. Foley's truck oddly stops....on a bridge. And Mr. Foley gets out! And he starts positioning himself right on the ledge! Yup....it wasn't enough for ONE type of death to be featured in this special. We gotta fit suicide into it too!
ALF quickly dresses in Foley's Santa outfit and rushes outside. "DON'T DO IT, GEORGE! Everyone loves you! The Tanners think you're great! You saved Willie as a kid and you let his family stay in your house as an adult! They can't lose you!"
Mr. Foley looks at this odd creature wearing fur over furs of his own, who knows details about his life few people would, and comes to a left-field conclusion I never expected. "Oh my Gosh....you're Saint Nicholas!" he concludes.
course....haven't you seen the illustrations? Santa looks
JUST LIKE this. It may make no sense, but it's working,
so ALF rolls with it.
Mr. Foley is convinced,
and climbs off the ledge. ALF asks him to "take me
home" without thinking. "The North Pole?
This means ALF can't use
the door; not while Foley is watching him. Inside the
cabin, the Tanners are sitting around, depressed at the
prospect of an ALF-less Christmas, when suddenly there's
a commotion above the fireplace.
The next morning, the Tanners visit Tiffany in the hospital. Kate admits she's never met them before, but "we have a mutual friend." Lynn hands Tiff a picture of ALF.
Willie tries to explain
to Mr. Foley that he can't accept the man's generous
offer -- and he shouldn't, because the man will need a
place to live now that he's going to live.
Tiffany gets out of bed and spies ALF in the window of the Tanners' car. She waves goodbye, and he waves back.
Why didn't it fit in?
When we covered Cricket on the Hearth I spoke about how sad circumstances are a key ingredient of most successful Christmas specials. The difference between that and this, though, is that those stories use sadness successfully by having the main character learn to overcome it. There is a happy ending and an overall message that things will get better. The makers of ALF's Special Christmas just decided to give people a sad and then leave for Denny's. You don't feel good after you watch it.
Does Grave Twerker like it?
For today's second opinion, Grave Twerker liked it so much she twerked all over Tiffany's cremated ashes. This is a good way to get yourself cursed.