A friend requested that I reboot the sitcom ALF (1986 – 1990). ALF was about a furry little alien, Gordon Shumway (aka ‘ALF’ – which stands for Alien Life Form) from the planet Melmac. ALF follows an amateur radio signal back to Earth and crash lands in a suburban family’s garage. The family, the Tanners, hide him from an Alien Task Force (a part of the US military that focuses on aliens) and the good-natured but busybody neighbours, the Ochmoneks.
ALF is a traditional fish out of water story. ALF gets to be a commentator on human society, with the cultural clash providing laughs and insights.
Interestingly, in looking up the series to get a list of the characters, I learned that ALF had been slated for a reboot in 2018, but the plans fell through the same year. I wonder how they would’ve approached it.
Sticking with dark and bleak, I’d do it like this:
- ALF: ALF is a benevolent ruler on the planet Melmac who is trying to unite the planet’s two warring different factions – the Mels and the Macs. When the dissident Mels violently usurp the Government and take control of the planet, ALF’s advisors see him to an escape craft. The Mels pursue and slaughter all the advisors just as ALF gets into the craft. He is planning to escape to a colony moon where he has regiments of loyal followers, but the dissidents shoot at his craft, knocking out his navigation. The craft spirals off-course and ultimately crashes into the garage of the Tanner family on Earth. A military alien task force, SEEK, knows that ALF has crash-landed in the neighbourhood. In early seasons, they are bumbling and inept in locating him. (This changes.)
(Incidentally, this backstory is what ALF tells the family. We begin the pilot episode with ALF fleeing to his craft, so it looks as if everything he tells the Tanners is true. STAY TUNED.)
- Willie ‘Wilhelma’ Tanner: the patriarch of the family has had a gender swap for the reboot. She is now a struggling journalist for the New York Times who is trying to carve out a respectable career for herself as a serious journalist, but her chief editor, Harold Woods, has held her back and repeatedly made advances towards her. Therefore, Willie writes bits and pieces for the paper – the obituaries, the horoscopes, and a relationship advice column entitled, ‘Lovestruck’. (I don’t know if the New York Times features any of these things but, again, research and coherence isn’t a big part of today’s reboots.) The irony is that now Willie has the Story of the Century – proof that aliens exist. But she develops a friendship with ALF. The greater irony is that in season two, while Willie is out with the flu, ALF writes the Lovestruck column. His brash advice resonates with readers, and the column goes from this piddling thing to a hit that is syndicated around the country. This contributes to Willie’s feeling of invalidation.
- Kate Harris-Tanner: an African-American no-nonsense police officer, who it’s later revealed has charges of corruption hanging over her head. As the story is drip-fed out, we learn that she was part of a special task force that brought down the Luca Crime Family. Everybody else on the task force took drug money, and insisted she do so also as part of a one-in/all-in pact. Kate refused, and the task force then threatened her family. At the time Willie was pregnant (with Brian), so Kate feared for their safety and took money. But now with Luca finally standing trial, the story is coming out. Later, Luca’s thugs start taking out witnesses and come after Kate and the rest of the Tanner family. ALF helps to obliterate them with advanced tech in a melee that levels half the neighbourhood. Nobody queries any of this happening. As an aside, ALF doesn’t understand the nature of a same-sex relationship, and many of his objections have to be allayed by Kate and Willie, which allows for a contemporary social commentary. The implications of ALF’s difficulty in understanding suggests that perhaps the each warring faction on Melmac is a different gender.
- Lynn Tanner: Lynn is Willie’s teenage daughter from her previous marriage to Milton Weekes. She is class president, has a genius IQ, is the chess club’s best player, is a cheerleader, and is also the quarterback on the football team. She continually has philosophical and scientific debates with ALF about advancing science at the cost of morality (she is against, ALF is for). Her father, Milton, just happens to be a nuclear physicist who just happens to work for SEEK, which is searching for ALF. Later in the series, SEEK make Lynn a job offer to supplant her father, who has failed to locate ALF. Lynn wants to accept, but the cost is she has to eliminate her father – a punishment for his ineptitude, and proof of her commitment.
- Brian Tanner: Brian was the baby Willie and Kate had together, and a consummation of their relationship. He would seem a perfectly normal, happy little boy, but then is bullied at school, leading to lots of anger and resentment. Peculiarly, ALF secretly trains him to retaliate physically, and in season 3 Brian confronts the bullies and beats them up. He then becomes their leader, and gradually becomes a tyrant at school, running scams, selling test results, and bullying the weak. This casts lights over ALF’s origin story that he was a benevolent leader and shows that children, when led astray, can do bad things.
- Erica Tanner: in the final season of the original ALF, Anne Schedeen (who played Kate) was pregnant, so they wrote in that she gave birth to a baby boy, Eric. Now, Willie and Kate pursue a pregnancy for Kate through artificial insemination. The gestation of the pregnancy is worryingly rapid. When the baby emerges, it turns out to be a furry little female ALF, which is named Erica. ALF and Kate protest their chastity, and ALF explains that on Melmac when a male bonds with a female, impregnation can occur through touch. This turns out to be a cover story. Later, in regression, Kate cites that ALF got her drunk and seduced her. Erica matures and grows quickly, and is constantly at odds with ALF. This would seem typical parenting issues … but it’s not.
- Trevor and Raquel Ochmonek: separatists who live next door, the Ochmoneks are paranoid and fear that the Government will turn into a tyranny, or that the US will be invaded by a foreign power. They have stockpiled weapons and supplies to last them for years in the event that happens. They have twelve children, and it’s later revealed that Trevor is a violent polygamist and cultist. He begins to suspect that the Tanners are hiding something, which feeds his paranoia. When Trevor discovers it’s an alien, he begins a webcast, warning the world of invasion and conquest. His claims are dismissed and he is branded a madman. Undeterred, he continues to rave and eventually builds a following. In season seven or so, he runs for and becomes US president, and is given access to SEEK. (This could spin-off into its own series, Everybody Loathes Trevor.)
- Larry Dykstra: a psychologist who is entrusted to keep ALF’s secret, Dykstra is brought in when ALF begins having dark, manic periods, and experiences fits of rage. Dr. Dykstra has ALF’s mental well-being at heart, but is later co-opted by SEEK, who then begin to monitor ALF and Erica in an attempt to learn more about them in the controlled environment of the Tanner household. In one episode when the family is out, Dr. Dykstra drugs ALF and Erica, allowing SEEK to infiltrate the house and plant surveillance devices.
There are several more incidental characters, who I won’t bother with.
I foresee that the series ends when it’s discovered that both ALF and Erica each share a collective consciousness with the genders of their own people – ALF with the Macs (the males), and Erica with the Mels (the females).
Obviously, ALF already knows all about Melmac, but as Erica is born on Earth, ALF is her primary source of information. Later, as she taps into the Mels’ collective consciousness, she becomes a cypher for the storyline that winds into the finale: ALF has been misinforming her. The truth is the Macs have subjugated the Mels, who organized an uprising and overthrew the Government.
It turns out ALF actually doesn’t stand for Alien Life Form but Advanced Liaision Forager, who came to Earth with a view towards ultimate conquest. This is what the Macs do: they go to planets, conquer them, and subjugate the inhabitants.
In a bloody, violent, explosive, action-packed, fun finale, the US Government, SEEK, the Ochmoneks, ALF, and Erica fight it out.
Erica incapacitates ALF, and then reveals he’s wearing a furry mask. Erica pulls off the mask to reveal that, underneath, ALF is E.T.
Willie then gets her Story of the Century.