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.
Among the most disturbing of ALF’s antics is when he gets a crush on the teenage daughter, Lynn. For those keeping track, there’s roughly a 216-year difference between the two. I mean, I know a lot of cultural practices are different on Melmac, but…
And he goes so far as to self-produce the below music video in honor of Lynn, who patiently begins to understand ALF’s feelings and talks him out of them (I guess) as if he’s a child who thinks he’s going to marry his own mother.
Among the other many childish antics from ALF:
- Constantly running away anytime anything goes vaguely wrong
- Demanding to sleep in Willie and Kate’s bedroom when he feels scared
- Eats styrofoam packing peanuts
- Films Kate, aka the mom, getting out of the shower
- Gets obsessed with trains
Cats exist across the universe.
As I said before, it’s not the fact that ALF wants to eat cats that’s so unsettling, it’s the fact that cats also exist on Melmac.
See my above screed about throwing everything we know about the universe and existence into question. It’s truly terrifying.
Ever feel like you’re pretty stressed? Just watch the dad from Alf, aka Willie Tanner, enter any room for 5 seconds. This man is in a state of constant existential crisis.
If he doesn’t make you feel uncomfortable, you may be a sociopath.
Big shout out to Max Wright, who portrayed Willie and passed away in 2019.
The destruction of ALF’s planet and species.
In fairness, this one actually does get mentioned here and there—which makes the reaction all that much more unsettling.
I would imagine if I made it off Earth right before it was blown up, I’d enter a state of extreme trauma every time I thought about it. But Gordon simply reflects on his time on Melmac with his typical aloof and ego-centric brand of humor.
And mostly just watches TV.
Worst case, he runs off to a monastery for a day or becomes obsessed with some other harebrained scheme. I mean, I guess he sort of freaks out sometimes? But generally the entire family just sort of laughs about it and moves on anytime the destruction of Melmac comes up.
Although, technically, his entire species has not been eradicated. In fact, in Season 1 he’s somehow able to get in touch with an old girlfriend, Rhonda, who made it out with another of ALF’s friends from Melmac, Skip. But apparently reconnecting with the last of his kind was nowhere near as tantalizing as hiding in the kitchen and occasionally being seen by the neighbors, so he decides to stay in suburban California.
In the end, ALF does actually decide to reconnect with the remaining Melmackians in Season 4 (the final season), who purchase a planet (take that Elon) in order to rebuild their home. But before he can be picked up and say his goodbyes, the Alien Task Force, who have been chasing him for all four seasons, nab him.
“To be continued” is flashed across the screen, but sadly it never was continued, not even after a failed reboot just a few years ago.
Considering all the unsaid, unsettling things about this show, maybe that’s for the best.