Exploiting the Archives, Paternity Edition: Alf Fucks Prostitutes Case File # 96 Alf's Hit Talk Show
As my wife and readers of my many memoirs about my struggles with mental illness such as The Big Rewind and You Don't Know Me But You Don't Like Me can wearily attest, I don’t have much in the way of happy childhood memories.
I consequently will always treasure the “Alf parties” I used to have with my dad where we’d microwave burritos and then watch Alf together. I don’t recall ever laughing much at Alf but I think I found its blandness and banality oddly soothing. My life at that point was traumatic and terrifyingly uncertain, so I gravitated to silly escapism that promised not to tax my frazzled brain in the least. Alf filled that role beautifully.
I subsequently have an even fiercer nostalgic attachment to that dumb show than most members of my generation. The mere sight of Alf’s, furry visage is enough to inspire a Proustian reverie. When I see a clip of Alf hollering exuberantly, “I kill ME!” it speaks to something deep in my soul.
Yet I was only vaguely aware that in 2004, in violation of God’s will and the wishes of the American viewing public, the wise-cracking cat-munching alien from the planet Melmac was surreally rebooted when Alf inexplicably scored his own short-lived talk show on TV Land that went by the painfully ironic title Alf’s Hit Talk Show yet lasted only seven poorly rated, critically panned episodes.
I have now watched all of the episodes of Alf’s Hit Talk Show available on Youtube (and, with profoundly mixed emotions, encourage you to do so as well) and even I am not entirely sure that this is a real show rather than a drug-induced hallucination. And after watching five episodes where Ed McMahon awkwardly banters with Alf as the host’s jovial sidekick, I still can’t believe that they got Ed fucking McMahon to do their dumb show.
As a commercial pitchman and Johnny Carson sidekick, McMahon was something of an honest hack. He genuinely seemed happy and excited to be paid large amounts of money to endorse products and laugh at Johnny Carson’s jokes. Yet McMahon’s whole vibe here betrays that this is the rare, possibly unprecedented instance, where McMahon seems to be feeling very bad and very guilty about the large amount of money he’s obviously being paid to pretend to find the jokes of a 250 year old feline-munching E.T funny.
How bad is Alf’s Hit Talk Show? I continually found myself worrying about Ed McMahon’s battered dignity. Ed McMahon! The man is a consummate shill! He’s a hack! He’s the subject of a lesser “Weird Al” Yankovic album cut! And I found myself regularly thinking about how whoever convinced him this was a good idea should be not only fired, but cast out from society, like Harvey Weinstein.
McMahon traditionally exudes ease and comfort. Here, he’s about as natural and spontaneous as a hostage rattling off a list of their kidnapper’s demands. In the first episode he laughs unconvincingly so long after the point where it would be appropriate to do so that it becomes distracting. I couldn’t believe they got the most legendary TV sidekick of all time to do this, and judging by McMahon’s all-too-transparent facial expressions, neither can he.
McMahon’s empty, hollow laughter and vacant expression silently but powerfully ask questions like, “What am I doing here?” “Why did I think this was a good idea?”, “This is a mistake, right? I can leave at some point? I’m not locked into this, am I?”
McMahon’s presence here is at once the Alf’s Hit Talk Show’s most impressive and saddest element. Having McMahon on the couch alongside a Hawaiian shirt-clad Alf should confer a certain instant credibility onto the show. It’d be like a third-rate Public Enemy knock-off band landing not just a Flavor Flav-like hype man, but Flavor Flav himself.
Not even having Johnny Carson’s sidekick fill the same role here can make Alf’s Hit Talk Show seem like an actual talk show, or even actual television, as opposed to a Saturday Night Live skit run amok. Having Alf host a painfully conventional, hacky third rate late night talk show is an Adult Swim idea, like the conceptually similar but infinitely superior previous My World of Flops case file The Jack & Triumph Show. But instead of Adult Swim/Robert Smigel execution we get something that feels The Rick Dees Show or The Pat Sajak Show, only with a wisecracking fictional space alien doing bits and interviewing guests, and, god help us, regularly singing duets, as opposed to a toothy DJ or alcoholic, right-wing game show host.
Thankfully, McMahon has a satisfying arc here. It pleases me to report that after looking painfully, visibly uncomfortable for the show's first few episodes, at a certain point the light goes out in his eyes and he clearly stops both caring and trying. He obviously must have come to the realization that his legacy as history's most successful TV sidekick is secure no matter how clearly he sleepwalks through the final few episodes.
This is a talk show Titanic. Can't fault the musicians for getting a few notes wrong in the watery final hour.
My wife asked me if the guests on Alf’s Hit Talk Show are in on the joke and I told her that the show is so incredibly muddled and conceptually confused that I’m not sure there is a joke, and additionally, I’m not sure what it would be. At times the show is so casually bizarre and half-assed that it borders on anti-comedy, but it’d be more appropriate to describe it as non-comedy.
The Alf puppet isn’t really capable of facial expressions at all, really, let alone sell material like, “Shouldn’t Diff’rent Strokes have been a hospital drama?” On his eponymous sitcom, Alf was always a wisenheimer but for the sake of Alf’s Hit Talk Show he’s been reimagined as a low-key open mic comic from outer space, a surprisingly low-energy funnyman with gags like one about how Michael Jackson was ordered to show his face in court but “he’s having trouble finding it.”
I do not envy people like Bryan Cranston, whose ability to seem legitimately excited at the opportunity to promote his sitcom Malcolm in the Middle to a bored-seeming alien puppet represents an acting triumph on par with anything he did on Breaking Bad. Cranston is one of a number of guests who seem way too excited to be sharing the screen with a hack, tacky fictional alien cut-up. An enormous, ancient Merv Griffin shows up to awkwardly exchange banter and jokes with Alf, hovering over him like a human Macy’s Day balloon, before doing a duet with Alf. A duet!
TV Land apparently thought its audience wanted to see Alf duet with people like Merv Griffin and Leon Redbone! This wasn’t even the 1970s or 1980s, when most creative decisions were made under the influence of cocaine, or, alternately, a sentient bag of cocaine that ran much of Hollywood.
No, TV Land’s hunch that the viewing public couldn’t wait to see Alf flirt awkwardly with Doris Roberts or throw to taped segments like a poor man’s John Davidson was apparently made by sober, sane human beings.
Alf’s Hit Talk Show is best understood not as an official television show sequel to Alf so much as an official piece of Alf-branded product, no different in its own way as a poorly-assembled stuffed Alf doll or a glow-in-the-dark poster. I bet if you’re Alf’s trust you are constantly pursuing ideas from across the spectrum: Alf animated cartoon! Alf graphic novel! Cable and network Alf reboots! Live action movie! CGI movie! Alf themed casino in Reno! Alf-branded slot machines in Vegas! Alf traveling stage show! And somewhere along the line, “Alf talk show” not only made it past the brainstorming phase, but got picked up and became a deeply embarrassing reality for everyone involved.
In the sixth and next to last episode of Alf’s Hit Talk Show, Alf answers a question about relationships from guest Tom Green by casually inquiring whether it constituted “dating” if you paid for it. The 250 year old space alien seems a little abashed but make no mistake: in this mildly ribald ad-lib, Paul Fusco, creator and performer of Alf, is establishing beyond a shadow of a doubt that in this particular iteration, Alf fucks prostitutes.
Let them marinate that in your old brain a little bit. Alf fucks prostitutes. That shit’s canon in Alf mythology because Paul Fusco thought that one-liner belonged in the broadcast version of an officially licensed Alf product. Later, Fusco really doubled down on the idea that Alf is a ferociously sexual creature, both within his species and outside it, when he had Alf be the star of the controversial and scandalous HBO reality show Alf Fucks Prostitutes.
Alf hooked up with the boys from Vice for a sex tourism-themed and profane jaunt through Eastern Europe’s sleaziest pleasure palaces for Alf Fucks Prostitutes, the premise of which is contained the mini-series’ title itself. So I suppose you could see Alf’s Hit Talk Show as a middle-ground between the family-friendly sitcom shenanigans that preceded it and the depraved, amoral and oversexed antics of Alf when fucking prostitutes.
Ultimately, no one can really say why Alf Fucks Prostitutes, I mean, Alf’s Hit Talk Show, failed. No, wait, scratch that. Everybody familiar with this abomination knows why it failed. Having Alf host a mediocre talk show isn’t just a bad idea, it’s a world-class bad idea. It merits its own exhibit in a Bad Ideas Hall of Fame alongside focussing a Star Wars Christmas Specials on Chewbacca’s family and Roberto Benigni’s balding, forty-something, relentlessly homoerotic Pinocchio.
By the end, it was clear that neither alien nor sidekick gave even a single, solitary fuck. That’s why you could slip a casual “Alf fucks hookers” joke into a family-friendly oddity seemingly aimed at the 2 to 12 demographic and the 65 and older crowd and no one in between, and not have it cut as wildly inappropriate and out of place.
Alf’s Hit Talk Show somehow managed to make it past the script stage, and the pilot stage, and the production stage without anyone having any idea what they were trying to do or what they were trying to say, if anything.
Because the fake-talk show feels like a screamingly wrong, bad fit for Alf and it’s proven surprisingly durable throughout the decades, whether it was a manner of Martin Mull and Fred Willard tweaking the talk show, small towns and celebrities with Fernwood 2 Nite, Comedy Bang Bang using this most artificial and hackneyed of show-business dinosaur to completely blow up the form and experiment relentlessly or The President Show using the talk show as its chosen vessel to expose and satirize both the insanity and the evil of the current inhabitant of the White House.
Scott Aukerman decided a talk show could be anything with Comedy Bang Bang and then acted upon that impulse. With Alf’s Hit Talk Show, the producers and writers decided that an Alf talk show should be exactly like every other talk show that came before it, and would come after it, and executed that idea as lazily and sleepily as possible.
An awkward veteran comic performer Kevin Butler makes several appearances as Alf’s “protege” and the show’s entertainment correspondent. He’s an unmistakably Larry “Bud” Melman type figure, a weird kind of walking punchline who was on TV specifically because men who look and act and talk like him are supposed to lurk in the shadows, unseen and unheard. Yet the way Butler is used in Alf’s Hit Talk Show betrays that the people behind it don’t understand David Letterman, or his sensibility, or the role people like Larry “Bud” Melman played on his show. Then again, the people behind Alf’s Hit Talk Show don’t seem to understand comedy, talk shows or Alf either, and while this might feel like unusually elaborate fan fiction, it’s officially Alf all the way.
Who could have possibly guessed that there wasn’t a huge audience to see Alf seem visibly uncomfortable awkwardly feigning interest in Bryan Cranston’s personal quirks and experiences as a film actor? Who could have possibly imagined that in 2004 the public wasn’t eager to see Alf do Queer Eye for the Straight Guy gags or joke about how there are so many damn spin-offs of CSI that those letters should stand for, “Copying Same Idea?”
Who could have imagined that audiences would not delight in watching a sad, defeated Alf puppet set up a joke with a segue like, “Speaking of weird, Michael Jackson’s back in the news…” Oh wait, everyone. Literally everyone. Who could have seen this train wreck coming? The answer, again, is everyone.
There’s something weirdly hypnotic about seeing something so horrifically misconceived go down in flames, so if you are at all curious as to just how bad, and how weird, and off a late-night talk show hosted by Alf could be, I encourage to check out Alf’s Hit Talk Show even if it ultimately fucked my pleasant childhood memories of long-ago “Alf Parties” just as aggressively as Alf fucked all those prostitutes in the controversial reality show of the same name.
Failure, Fiasco or Secret Success: Fiasco
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