What parents need to know
Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that though ALF features a puppet, it's not really meant to be a little kids' show. Children may enjoy the show, particularly since much of the broad humor will appeal to them, but ALF himself is sarcastic, insulting, and crass. There's a lot of toilet humor, and a fair amount of ALF mocking authority figures. ALF is additionally in danger of being discovered and studied/dissected by the military, but the tension is quite light and won't distress any but the most sensitive viewers. Parents' main worry will be ALF's rude mouth. He doesn't understand human ways, and he finds an awful lot of the things we do to be stupid. Maybe so, and maybe that's funny to children who themselves are learning society's rules, but parents might not appreciate their kids imitating ALF's attitude. Nonetheless, ALF has aged pretty well and is still worth watching, particularly by kids who have a sci-fi bent, or by families who are hoping ALF can be a gateway show to help children develop an appreciation for sci-fi and fantasy.
What's the story?
In the sitcom ALF, a hairy, aardvark-like alien (Paul Fusco) follows an amateur radio signal one night while fleeing the destruction of his planet, Melmac. He winds up crash-landing through the roof of the Tanner family. Patriarch Willie (Max Wright) is a space nut who convinces wife Kate (Anne Scheeden) to let homeless ALF crash with the family, which also includes teenaged Lynn, grade-schooler Brian, and pet cat Lucky, whom ALF would dearly love to kill and eat (Melmacians eat cats, it turns out). Under constant threat of discovery by a military just dying to dissect him, as well as nosy next door neighbor Mrs. Ochmonek, ALF cracks wise while he learns the ways of humans in general and the Tanners in particular, making mistakes that are corrected at the end of each episode.
Is it any good?
When it first aired in 1986, ALF was truly subversive stuff. A nation whose collective minds had been recently blown by blockbuster movie E.T. expected a show about an alien creature to be life-affirming and tear-inducing. Instead, ALF presented a sardonic, sarcastic alien who was riddled with survivor guilt after escaping his destroyed home planet, bored and trapped in his new human home, and who was all too willing to take out these emotions on the Tanner family. Kids thrilled to ALF's bad attitude. He dared to talk back to mom and dad! For their part, adults appreciated ALF's flintiness, which was a breath of fresh air in the do-gooder landscape of '80s family sitcoms like Growing Pains.
These days, with plenty of programs centering around anti-heroes, ALF's grumpiness doesn't come across as quite as fresh. In addition, references that were sharply current in the '80s (Sean Penn, Born in the USA, Mork & Mindy) now require some explaining to younger family members. But the fish-out-of-water concept is still a juicy one for kids, since they keenly relate to characters who don't really know the rules and how to act. Whether parents will appreciate ALF's general negativity, his mockery of the Tanner parents and their values, and his incessant backtalk is not as certain.
Families can talk about...
Families can talk about why ALF is so unrelentingly negative and sarcastic. Do you think that his bad attitude is a way of helping him cope with feeling so out of place? When you feel out of place, do you ever act in a similar way?
Do you know any other television shows that feature life forces from other worlds, like Ben 10, Lilo & Stitch, Star Trek, or The Fairly OddParents? How is ALF different from the alien creatures on these shows? Are these alien creatures presented as threatening or comical?
Why do television shows and movies so often feature characters who are new to a setting, i.e. a new worker at an office, or a new girl at school? Why is it useful to the story to have a main character who doesn't know the way things work?