We (American consumers) all had a good chuckle last week when Radio Shack’s Super Bowl spot aired. Oh, was it ever amusing to see ALF, Dee Snider, and cheap facsimiles of other ’80s pop culture titans attempting to “take back” “their” electronics store as Loverboy’s hit of hits “Working For The Weekend” pumped in the background. In the week that has followed, however, certain dark corners of the Internet (read: Ghostbusters message boards I frequent) have been buzzing that Radio Shack’s cute little advert includes a veiled jab at Dan Aykroyd.
A few ghostheads out there have interpreted the end of the commercial, wherein Slimer flies through the wall of the new Radio Shack only to be told he’s arrived “too late,” as a shot at Aykroyd and his years-long insistence that a Ghostbusters 3 will be made. It’s “too late,” they say, for that third and ostensibly final entry. Too much time has passed. No one will accept AARP Venkman and Spengler and even less people will accept this “new generation” of busters Ayk is insisting are in the GB3 script. So hit the bricks, Slimer. You’re done. Float away to the 1980s mascot retirement home. Spuds MacKenzie and the California Raisins are waiting for you.
There’s a feeling of reverence for the decades old figures in this ad, and based on that I don’t think Radio Shack would purposely single one out just for sly ridicule. On the other hand, Slimer is a computer graphic; unlike Hulk Hogan, they can say some messed up shit to his globby-ass face without fear of physical retribution. Also, generally speaking there’s some favoritism at play within the spot. We get Ponch from “CHiPs” not John, horror movie icon Jason but not Freddy, eternal barfly Cliff Clavin but not Norm. In that light I’m surprised they used Sgt. Slaughter to compliment Hogan.
I don’t think it’s outside the realm of possibility that Radio Shack took a swipe at the Ghostbusters franchise, but if you’re trying to zero in on the most washed up and/or least profitable property featured…well, look, they put Kid ‘n Play in there, and I think a Ghostbusters 3 of any stripe would make more money than another House Party or Class Act. I’d be willing to bet my reserve supply of Ecto Cooler on that. No disrespect to Kid or Play, of course. I love House Party, but more kids dress up like Ray Stanz every year for Halloween than Chris Reid.
Things I had to fact check for this post: if Loverboy was one word or two, if the “Working” in “Working For The Weekend” was spelled “Workin’,” the proper spelling of Spuds MacKenzie, the proper spelling of “CHiPs,” where to put the apostrophe in Kid ‘n Play.
Hard to tell which one of these knuckleheads was on his way up at the time and which one was heading in the other direction.
Starring: William O’Leary, Jensen Daggett, Martin Sheen, ALF
Directed by Dick Lowry
The most redeeming aspect of NBC’s “ALF,” the 1980s sitcom centered around a wise-cracking alien and the California family he imposes upon, has to be the interplay between puppeteer/series creator Paul Fusco and Max Wright. As beleaguered patriarch Willie Tanner, Wright’s reactions to and subsequent verbal damnations of ALF’s shenanigans are at times a laugh goldmine on par with such perpetually miffed legends as Oliver Hardy and Bud Abbott. Willie Tanner’s pain is so visceral, and why not? The idea of alien races as cultured, classy beings shattered by this repugnant wart hog bearing all the worst aspects of Uncle Buck—wouldn’t you burst all your blood vessels as well? Thus, the cardinal sin of Project: ALF, the 1996 made-for-tv movie that attempts to pick up where the original series left off six years earlier, is the complete absence of Wright.
It’s no secret that over the course of four seasons Max Wright grew to hate working on “ALF.” Specifically, the actor resented spending long laborious hours in an audience-free vacuum where week after week he watched the puppet get all the best lines. The odds that Project: ALF’s creators reached out to Wright are about 50/50 in my estimation; the fact they continued without him underscores Paul Fusco’s hubristic belief that ALF could be a barrel of yuks with any given reasonably talented straight man.
Thus, Project: ALF lines ’em up for the orange rug to knock down: Ed Begley, Charles Robinson, Miguel Ferrer, and Ray Walston all pop up to match frustrated wits with ALF as the film takes our hero from a secret military base (where he lives in pronounced luxury) to suburban wilds and eventually the hands of a shady former NASA employee (Ferrer). None of the aforementioned greats lives up to the ALF challenge, if that’s what you want to call it. The magic just isn’t there. Even the consistently underrated William O’Leary can’t serve acceptable Max Wright substitute, though he does mine the most laughs out of ALF’s assorted nonsense. O’Leary plays a good-hearted lieutenant who, along with his superior officer/token love interest (Jensen Daggett), is trying to save Melmac’s last son from certain extinction at the hands of Martin Sheen’s evil colonel character.
Yes, Martin Sheen took a turn in the “ALF” comeback movie. A year later, Sheen played one of the most controversial roles in TV history, voicing the “real” Seymour Skinner on hot button “Simpsons” episode “The Principal and the Pauper” (nerds are still riled up about that story line, trust me). We can only assume Martin was having serious personal problems during this time period and work of any kind was his only respite.
The most frustrating aspect of Project: ALF is that with a little more work it could have been great. There are a handful of sharp jokes and fun little set-ups throughout the film. Unfortunately, an err toward laziness—mostly in shot blocking and editing, but also in the arsenal of dated one-liners ALF tosses off about ’90s-specific events/figures—stalls Project: ALF miles away from existing as a tight, quirky epilogue to the beloved NBC series (“ALF’s” producers, verbally promised a fifth season, ended season four in 1990 with an “ALF gives himself up to the government” cliffhanger; sagging ratings convinced NBC to renege on their deal). You know you’re in trouble when you’ve got Miguel Ferrer and he appears to be dying of boredom.
A couple times ALF looks the same way—bored beyond recognition. Perhaps the puppet became sentient during production and that’s why we have yet to see Project: ALF 2: Melmackian Boogaloo. Maybe even the swath of carpet knows it ain’t really ALF without the opportunity to shout, “Hey, Willie!”
FINAL SCORE: One and a half Gordon Shumways (out of four).
Oh, you didn’t hear? ALF might come back, albeit not in pog form. Paul Fusco wants to mount a brand new feature film based around our favorite Melmacian. Why the hell not? They made a goddamn Battleship movie. Hey Paul, feel free to swipe one of the following ideas:
– ALF escapes his government captors and hides out in the furry community where he learns not every anthropomorphized wolf is as innocent as he or she seems
– ALF escapes his government captors and becomes America’s latest cryptid obsession after he’s videotaped rummaging through a 7-11 dumpster; fleeing to the woods of rural Virginia, ALF is shunned by the Bigfoot community until he brokers peace between the Sasquatches and a band of angry hunters
– ALF escapes his government captors and stows away on a flight to Korea where he is outraged to learn dog is an acceptable meal choice; passing himself off as a hyper-intelligent golden retriever, ALF campaigns for canine rights whilst trying to cover up his shameful appetite for cats
– ALF escapes his government captors and, using information he stole from FBI supercomputers, hacks numerous bank accounts connected to the rich and powerful; a month-long shopping spree ensues, eventually ending in a tense standoff outside a Sandusky Wal-Mart
– ALF escapes his government captors and is immediately hit by a car; the rest of the movie is an endless loop of that one episode where he lip synched that Bob Seger song
“Fuck, marry, kill,” he blurted quickly, the words puncturing the night air with their immediacy. “Mork, Balki, ALF.”
There was a discernable pause. Far off in the distance, a train blew its whistle.
“I’d fuck ALF, marry Balki, and kill Mork,” she answered with little to no emotion. It was all he could do to keep from choking on his tongue.
“You’d fuck ALF?”
“Well, it would only be the one time, right?”
“Yeah, I guess so,” he relented. “I guess I don’t see the logic in marrying Balki. There are so many episodes of ‘Perfect Strangers’ where he gets duped and Cousin Larry has to come to the rescue. At least ALF is smart, he’s savvy…he tricked that blind lady that one time and he always convinced the Tanners to do what he wanted.”
She was quick to offer the obvious counterpoint.
“But if you were married to ALF, you’d have to have sex with him, like, repeatedly, because you’d be married.”
“Look,” he said, turning his steely blue eyes to face her. “ALF is a fucking alien. You can’t assume he’d be attracted to me, and I’m not attracted to him. We’re different species. Ours would be a marriage of convenience. He’s a smart alien with strange powers, I’m a human who can go to the store and get stuff without having to wear a disguise. We’d have an open thing. Besides, the story is that married people don’t have a whole lot of sex anyway. So, whatever.”
“Is Balki gay?” she asked, sounding as innocent as a toddler.
“No, he had a girlfriend on the show.”
He looked away again into the darkness.
This has got to be the hottest summer ever, he thought.
Just for shits and giggles, I visited the NBC Experience store at Rockefeller Center this weekend. I like TV, I like useless crap—it seemed like a win-win situation. I was actually on the lookout for something specific. No, not a Dwight Schrute bobblehead. No, not a “Heroes” action figure. No, not even a Brian Fellows t-shirt adorned with the hilarious catchphrase, “That’s Crazy!”
I was looking for “ALF” merchandise, but they didn’t have any. At all.
This struck me as odd only because there’s an entire section of the Experience devoted to hit shows NBC had in the ’80s, including but not limited to “Punky Brewster,” “Saved By The Bell,” and (ahem) “Charles In Charge.” Thanks, but I’ll pass on the cheap poly/cotton blend boasting Scott Baio’s grinning teenage visage. Where the hell was everyone’s favorite wise-cracking Melmacian? He’s been banished, it seems, not even allowed to collect dust on the clearance rack with the Donald Trump “You’re Fired!” t-shirts.
So WTF is going on? I smell a conspiracy. There used to be mountains of “ALF” stuff at the NBC-E. Seriously, the plushies were piled to the ceiling as late as 2004. If it turns out the Peacock sold Gordon Shumway and all his subsidiary rights to Disney, I will personally lead the crusade for Jeff Zucker’s fat, bald head.
Obviously the only way to get to the bottom of this is to hang out at 30 Rock all day every day and harass anyone walking by who looks like they might be involved with the network brass. As soon as I can find someone willing to do that for me pro bono, we’ll get started. In the meantime, please enjoy this “ALF” blooper real I recently found on YouTube (complete with hilarious Rod Serling, Rodney Dangerfield, and Psycho impressions courtesy of ALF himself):