1 9 8 6 – 1 9 9 0 (USA)
102 x 30 minute episodes
2 x 60 minute episodes
Long before 3rd Rock From the Sun (but long after My Favorite Martian) there was ALF.
ot your average, ALF (it stood for ‘Alien Life Form’) was a wisecracking, 229-year-old furball who became part of the Tanner family when he accidentally crashed his spaceship into their garage.
Stranded on Earth after his home planet of Melmac – where he was known as Gordon Shumway – exploded, ALF lived in suburban Los Angeles with Willie (Max Wright) and Kate (Anne Schedeen) Tanner and their kids, Lynn (Andrea Elson) and Brian (Benji Gregory).
The comedy in the show came primarily from five elements: ALF’s inquisitiveness with Earthly things; his interaction with the Tanner’s; the struggle to keep ALF hidden from other Earthlings (especially the nosy neighbours, The Ochmonek’s); his quest to eat Lucky the family cat and his way with words (see examples below).
“You can pick your friends, and you can pick your nose, but you can’t find a word to rhyme with “orange”
“Never stick your face in a bag full of angry Squirrels”
“Why are all of the agricultural TV shows on at 5:30 in the morning when the farmers are already outside working?”
“Why do Earth cars have so many different gears? On Melmac we only had three: fast, really fast, and ”yikes, we’re going to die!”
“What do you get if you cross a fungle with a cat? Eeeeughw! How could you even consider that?”
ALF, though abrasive and crass – and cat-hungry (see picture) – loved the Tanners and they loved him.
Willie, a mild-mannered social worker, was often frustrated by his visitor but continually bailed him out of trouble like he was an extra-terrestrial Steve Urkel.
The kids were the most sympathetic, with youngster Brian seeing ALF as the galaxy’s best playmate and teenage Lynn seeing him as a cute little orange furry guy (ALF had the hots for her, but you know humans and their alienist prejudices!).
Explaining that your tenant is from another planet can be tricky, so the Tanners chose to hide ALF from all visitors, including dense next-door neighbours Trevor (John LaMotta) and Raquel (Liz Sheridan) Ochmonek.
But if TV and movies have taught us anything, it’s that nobody can hide a wisecracking orange alien from an inquisitive prepubescent boy, and the Ochmonek’s twelve-year-old nephew Jake (Josh Blake) proved that theory on ALF.
The only other semi-regular was Willie’s eager-to-please younger brother Neal (JM J. Bullock), who occasionally appeared in ALF‘s last season.
The producers had wished to keep the mechanics of ALF’s movement a secret, but it was eventually disclosed that a puppet was used in stationary scenes and diminutive actor Micah Maestros suited up as the alien for walking scenes.
Series co-creator Paul Fusco provided ALF’s voice.
ALF merchandising took off in a big way in the late 1980s, grossing more than $200m a year at its peak, and the sitcom spawned a Saturday-morning cartoon series which was a form of ‘prequel’, looking at the alien’s life on Melmac before he ended up on Earth. The cartoon series screened in the USA from 12 September 1987.
This, in turn, led to a further animated production, ALF Tales, aired from 16 September 1989. Paul Fusco voiced the character in both series.
A baby named Eric was born to the Tanner household in 1989, giving ALF new human customs to wisecrack about.
As often happens with series’ whose fates are unknown, the last episode of ALF – in March 1990 – was not intended as a series-ender, and it left the title character’s fate in question.
ALF, who was on his way to colonise another planet with fellow Melmackians Skip and Rhonda (the latter his ex-girlfriend), was captured by the federal military Alien Task Force.
The orange guy’s fate remained in doubt for several years, but a 1996 TV-movie, Project: ALF, tied up the loose ends and put fans’ minds at rest.
The character of ALF was created by Paul Fusco in 1984. When Fusco failed to interest Disney Studios and Muppet-man Jim Henson, he took his idea to NBC’s Brandon Tartikoff.
NBC agreed to produce the show and reaped the rewards.
Paul Fusco (voice)
Lisa Buckley (puppet)
Bob Fappiano (puppet)
Michu Meszaros (suit)
JM J. Bullock
Larry the Psychiatrist
Lucky the Cat