This article debuted last year on The Classical Mess, a newsletter I was creating on Substack until I found out they were giving money to bad people.
The ghastly villains in Killer Klowns From Outer Space (1988) are authentic grotesques rendered in mountains of what appears to be rubber and latex. They’re also not in the same league as actual clowns, who, for a variety of reasons, strike much deeper fear in our hearts. One assumes the filmmakers didn’t use human beings in greasepaint for Killer Klowns because they were trying to create something “wacky,” not the Texas Chainsaw Massacre of harlequin invasion movies.
Yes, we see these monsters land their giant intergalactic carnival tent somewhere in California, where they start shooting people with popcorn guns and entombing them in cotton candy. The thirty-somethings playing the teenage couple who witness all this don’t know what to do because the script never gave them parents. Our heroes, Debbie and Mike, go to the cops and convince Deputy Dave Hanson to help them investigate all this clown malarky. A bit of drama is squeezed out of the fact Debbie and Dave used to date. That’s the emotional component of the space clown movie.
Despite a fertile concept and some very unique special effects, Killer Klowns From Outer Space is a middling affair. The actors can’t commit to playing this as seriously as Jaws or as broadly as “Mr. Ed.” This lack of conviction deflates the humor like last week’s birthday balloons. Soon we’re trapped in our own figurative glob of cotton candy.
At least the clowns look good. That’s where all the money went, which we know because the producers cancelled a Soupy Sales cameo after learning the price of his plane ticket. Imagine being Soupy Sales and getting that phone call. Hey, imagine having to make that phone call. On par with death by alien circus jerks.
February 27, 1989: The CBS network airs “What’s Alan Watching?”, a bizarre sixty minute sitcom pilot in which a pre-“Parker Lewis Can’t Lose” Corin Nemec stars as a television-obsessed teen named Alan Hoffstetter. Young Alan’s family is mired in a swamp of typical sitcom problems—his sister is dating a balding loser, his car salesman brother is on his way to becoming a balding loser—but our hero barely notices the chaos thanks to his psychotic love affair with the boob tube. Alan watches so much TV the characters on the screen actually talk back to him, advising him about his life, occasionally mocking him, and generally sucking the willing shrimp into a weird, satiating void where life’s problems don’t matter.
The most notable of the back-talking stars on Alan’s TV is Eddie Murphy, who also produced “What’s Alan Watching?” in an attempt to fill the Fran Drescher-less void in our pop culture lives at the time (Drescher plays Nemec’s aforementioned sister, Gail). Murphy spends the majority of his scant “Alan” screen time recycling his James Brown impression from “Saturday Night Live” in a fake TV movie-of-the-week called “Soul’d On The Rocks.” Eddie was still pretty electric in ’89, and while his bits certainly stand out, they’re not as savory as some of the other weirdness emanating from the Hoffstetter’s set. Submitted for your approval: Frogs lifting weights, a shockingly political “Mr. Ed” documentary, and über-sexy commercials for industrial flanges.
Unfortunately, the long stretches that center on the rote Hoffstetter family drama drag “What’s Alan Watching?” down, and it’s easy to see why CBS ultimately passed on turning this strange concept into a full-on series. Six months later, “Weird Al” Yankovic’s UHF hit theaters, a TV-skewering tale so deft and funny it became the gold standard for idiot box mockery. Though UHF may have flunked at the box office, it successfully buried “What’s Alan Watching?” as cherished cult (in a strange coincidence, Fran Drescher also appeared in UHF, portraying “Weird Al’s” frazzled secretary Pamela Finklestein).
Some of “Alan’s” failure could be attributed to the presence of Pauly Shore as the vapid fool dating the titular character’s untouchable love interest, but hey, it’s Sunday, you’ve got nothing else to do—why don’t you watch the whole damn thing and judge for yourself? If you end up feeling truly burned by the experience, write a firm letter to Eddie Murphy Productions expressing your discontent. Who knows, maybe Ed’ll comp you with an autographed copy of Nutty Professor 2!