26 April 2013

ALF - Alien Life Form...

Dateline: Mid-1980s...  ALF was created by puppeteer Paul Fusco. In 1986, he crash landed his space craft into the garage of the Tanner family...

Like Knight Rider, the American TV comedy series ALF (1986-1990) slipped by me almost unnoticed on life's glittering 1980s high road. So, as with the '80s Actual feature on Michael and the very fabulous KITT, I turned to a good friend of mine for help, in this case Mandy, who loves the ALF series so much she is still brimming over with enthusiasm about it all these years on! The post below takes the form of questions from me and answers from Mandy...

Who was ALF? What did A-L-F stand for?

ALF (real name Gordon Shumway) was a furry alien from the planet Melmac. He crash landed into the garage of the Tanner family. When Brian (son) asked what 'it' was, Willie Tanner (father) replied, "It's an ALF," (an acronym for Alien Life Form). ALF was mischievous, cynical, and above all a prankster. He is best known for his sarcasm. He did care for the Tanners though and his heart was in the right place (in his ear to be precise).

Who were the Tanner family?

The Tanner family consisted of Willie (father), Kate (mother), Lynn (teenage daughter) and a young son called Brian. Oh, and not forgetting their cat, Lucky. Lucky lived a hazardous existence as cats were a delicacy on Melmac, but the Tanners' No. 1 rule was "we don't eat members of the family". This didn't deter ALF from trying his luck though!!

Where did they live? Were there any other main characters in the show apart from the Tanners and ALF?

The Tanners lived at 167 Hemdale in the San Fernando Valley of L.A. Other main characters in the show were the Ochmoneks, Raquel and Trevor (very nosey and annoying neighbours). ALF befriended a blind woman called Jody who never knew he was an alien - she just thought he was a bit weird. There was also Kate's mother, Dorothy, who would threaten to turn ALF over to the Alien Task Force.

What was the story-line?

ALF's planet, Melmac, has been destroyed in a nuclear war. He follows a signal to Earth and crash lands into the Tanners' garage. The Tanners are unable to bring themselves to turn ALF into the authorities (the Alien Task Force) with the fear of them experimenting on him, so they hide him in their home. They soon begin to develop affection for him, and he has a strong bond with the kids, although Kate takes more convincing. ALF has to adapt to life on Earth and the constant learning process frequently gets him in trouble. Despite all ALF's antics, there was a rather sad undertone to the show as ALF's planet had been destroyed and he missed his friends. He always dreamed of being reunited with them.

What did you think of the show? What did it mean to you at the time?

ALF was very funny, very funny indeed. This short little alien with burnt orange fur was so endearing. I was always amazed at the variety of his facial expressions, which for a puppet were truly remarkable. I eagerly awaited every new episode and was a real fan. Buying presents for me at that time was so easy, just get something with the old ALFer on it! I had posters, mugs, t-shirts, key rings, books and my favourite, a big talking ALF (which still has pride of place in my home). The odd ALF phrase still slips out in conversation to this day. The show was aimed at kids but some of the jokes had very adult tones. The show also courted a lot of controversy, with ALF seen drinking alcohol with Brian, and ALF's taste for cats. My favourite ALF clip is when he is singing along to Bob Segar's Old Time Rock and Roll; it's typical ALF!

 Did you ever watch  other 1980s American shows (Hill Street Blues, Cagney & Lacey, The Golden Girls, Roseanne, Kate and Allie, Married With Children, etc)? How did ALF rank against other '80s American TV shows in your opinion?

Other American '80s shows were good at the time, and I watched a few. I really don't get the same enjoyment when I watch them now, with the exception of Hill Street Blues, which was a brilliant programme. Hill Street Blues was an entirely different type of show, so trying to compare ALF with the likes of shows of that stature is very difficult. All I can say is I would not purchase other such shows on DVD, but would buy the entire four seasons of ALF in a heartbeat!

Thanks so much, Mandy. Now, Mr Shumway, let's take a look at you (Andrew blasts off to YouTube)....

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