ALF (NBC, 1986-1990)
Who would’ve thought that one of the most popular personalities on American TV in the late-80s would be some furry puppet thing? But that’s exactly what happened with this sitcom which was full of science-fiction silliness. Firstly, ALF isn’t the main character’s name, it’s because he is an Alien Life Form, his real name is Gordon (and he is definitely the second-best sitcom character called Gordon after Gordon Brittas).
The Tanners are a very ordinary family, not one who could sustain a sitcom on their own, but all that changes when one day a spaceship crashlands in their garage, and they are fairly surprised to see him to put it mildly, because ALF has arrived from the planet Melmac. Life is not boring now! But he is soon welcomed into their home, because he is a 229-year-old with attitude, and naturally has a smart comment for every situation.
ALF does eventually adjust to life on Earth, even if he does struggle to understand it. The next-door neighbours aren’t aware of the situation, although it is clear to them that something rather strange is happening. Someone who doesn’t befriend ALF though is Lucky the cat, as he likes to eat such things, and his wiggles his ears with excitement upon seeing one. If he can’t eat a cat though, a huge sandwich often makes up for it.
The original run of the show ended with ALF finally leaving Earth like so many unpopular animated baseball-cap wearing canines. There were 102 episodes of ALF in four series (every episode title was taken from a pop song). But would he do it all again? Well yes, because there were two cartoon spin-off series, along with a film. And of course, they made a few quid with the merchandise, including toys that were advertised rather frequently, everybody wanted to hug him.
ALF did fairly well in the UK too. Although it wasn’t ever shown on CITV, the show was considered to some extent to be a children’s sitcom in this country, and it was usually shown in the afternoon on LWT, before moving to Sky One. ALF did make a few guest appearances on CITV though, and he also had the honour of some Lookin covers, which was his aim when he arrived on this planet I’m sure.
Looking back now I suppose it’s rather obvious why viewers fell for ALF’s charms. I don’t think that there has been a DVD release in this country though which is disappointing, because it would definitely be a good move. And I got through doing this piece without making the usual “the puppet had more charisma and personality than the human actors” joke. Well, nearly.