I wish I could have been in the room when the concept for ALF was pitched.
I imagine some greasy guy with a look that says he’s constantly late for things, those huge ‘80s glasses that get dark in the sun (so they’re like halfway dark when he’s in the pitch room), and a briefcase that he never opens. And it’s the ‘80s so his cheap suit has killer shoulder pads.
And then, he begins describing the show … to save time, let’s just look at some snippets from the Wikipedia description:
Gordon Shumway is an alien from the planet Melmac who follows an amateur radio signal to Earth and crash-lands into the garage of the Tanners, a suburban middle-class family who live in the San Fernando Valley area of California.
OK, fair enough, I mean it seems like a stretch but there was some sci-fi interest at the time. Maybe it could work. But then …
He generally hides in the kitchen. It is eventually revealed ALF's home planet Melmac exploded, due to nuclear war.
WHOA! Ok, that took a turn. From kitchen to nuclear apocalypse. Wow.
And that’s just one of the many very strange things that the producers of ALF apparently brushed off, and said, sure, let’s go ahead and put this on broadcast television.
ALF, running four seasons from 1986 to 1990 on NBC (plus several spinoffs), is largely remembered as a lighthearted romp where the titular character laughs at his own jokes—oh, and his obsession with cats.
But let me tell you: The fact that ALF wants to eat the cat is one of the least strange or even dark things about this mostly late-80s sitcom.
However it happened, this show somehow got made, but not without some subtle, yet extremely unsettling, things that still made it into the show—rarely, if ever, receiving nary a mention.
Here they are, listed in no particular order:
Melmackian is the exact same language as English.
Let’s say sometime in the future, let’s say even 500 years from now, we finally make contact with an alien race. And guess what? It turns out they speak English, the exact same language and with the exact same accent as we speak here, in America, on Earth.
What sort of philosophical, historical, and just straight-up spacetime questions does this raise? This throws into question everything we know about the universe.
Somehow, by chance, ALF makes it to the one planet in the known universe, across light-years, traveling in a manner that breaks the foundations of Einstein’s theories, and ends up in the one place where they understand each other perfectly.
It seems, at the very least, worth a slight mention, but from what I can tell it’s not bothered to be even so much as casually observed—not even once.
His name is Gordon.
Everyone calls him ALF. And yes, it’s always in ALL CAPS. But why?
ALF == Alien Life Form.
This is the nickname that the patriarch of the family, Willie Tanner, bestows upon the being—the first known extraterrestrial being ever discovered, as far as Willie knows—when he discovers him rooting around his garage.
And despite the fact that ALF does indeed have his own name, and speaks English—er Melmackian, just fine, he simply accepts this nickname.
But what’s really disturbing is the fact that ALF actually has a very mundane, ordinary, very Earth-like name: Gordon Shumway.
OK … surely his family at least had some really alien-y names, right? Like Xolgor, Zurpglish, that kind of thing.
Nope, his dad is Bob and his mom is Flo.
I don’t know why I find it so disturbing that an alien would have a name that sounds like he sells insurance, but I sure do.
He’s hundreds of years old but acts like a child.
Gordon Schumway’s birthday is the 28th of Nathinganger. Or on Earth, October 28, 1756.
So in 1988, that makes him roughly 232 years old.
And yet, he acts like, roughly, an 8-year-old. And that’s being generous.