Maybe it's because I grew up in the 80s or maybe it has something to do with my taste in television, but some of my favorite shows came from that decade. The Cosby Show, Cheers, countless cartoons and ALFrank as my most watched, and most loved, TV series from that time period. Until the furry alien hit DVD it had been ages since I had seen the original ALF show, because I'm not counting the commercials or talk show that the character appeared in.
Twenty years ago ALF escaped from the doomed world known as Melmac and crash landed here on Earth. Luckily for the creature he couldn't have been found in the care of a nicer family. If you're thinking this sounds something like E.T. then you're probably right because in many ways the series' concept was a parody of the film. Anyways, this particular alien was no ordinary visitor. He had a penchant for sarcasm and lame jokes plus constantly chased the family's cat in hopes of catching the kitty to enjoy it as a snack.
In the show ALF was basically trying to find his place in the Tanner household. Aside from a few particular stories that broke the mold the series followed the sitcom guidebook to the letter with just about every episode. To say that the show was very formulaic would be a gross understatement but there's no way around denying the charm that it had. The basic premise for each episode would go as follows: ALF comes up with a cockamamie idea, Willie Tanner (and sometimes the rest of the Tanner clan) gets irritated, things right themselves, lessons are learned, and everybody has a laugh. This was a tried and true formula from many shows of this era.
The fourth, and final, season of the show has recently arrived on DVD and continues the tradition of the Lion's Gate release. For any fans that have been following these DVD sets you already know that these are the edited syndicated versions; not the originals. Naturally that will draw some ire from many of you but there are those that would just be pleased to have every ALF episode available. I fall into both camps really. On one hand I'm just pleased to finally see ALF after all these years but on the other it's pretty annoying to have trimmed episodes instead of the original content. The omissions aren't the biggest and they aren't easily noticeable but the simple fact that the episodes were edited is reason enough to feel cheated.
By this point in ALF's run the quality of the show had started to dip off. It almost appeared as though the creators were running out of steam and all of their ideas had been stretched to their limit. Many of the episodes in this season were entertaining but to be honest there's nothing here that I would call amazing or a must see. The true magic of ALF happened in the show's earlier days but watching these sets back to back reveals some of the mojo trickling off.
As far as what's actually on this four disc set there are a couple of episodes that were included in the last one. "Fever" and "Mind Games" were technically season four episodes but for some reason they were packed into the season three release. I know it seems kind of silly but for those collectors out there that have picked up each of these sets it feels like a double-dip.
While there's nothing outstanding in this season there are a few episodes that are definitely worth checking out. My favorites from this final season were "Wanted: Dead or Alive", "When I'm Sixty-Four", and "I Gotta Be Me".
In "Wanted Dead or Alive" Willie finds himself in a spot of trouble when a crook with his likeness appears on an America's Most Wanted type show. Alf does everything he can to keep Willie from going to jail but Trevor Ochmonek, their lovely neighbor, is convinced that Willie is the guy that the cops are looking for. There were many good moments in this episode though it wasn't quite on par with stuff from the first and second season.
"When I'm Sixty-Four" sends ALF out on an adventure to a retirement home when Kate and Willie go to dinner for Valentine's Day. He goes there with dreams of taking a picture of one of his favorite celebrities but along the way he bumps into a trio of elderly folks and makes some friends. This was one of the few episodes that got me to laugh quite a bit and it was nice to see ALF banter with people other than the Tanners; funny tasting thermometer and all.
Finally, the last better-than-good episode on this set is "I Gotta Be Me". Lynn has been dating a mime named Robert for some time and things start to get serious. When she wins a trip to a ski resort and decides to take her significant other Willie and Kate freak out. Things get even worse when she comes back from the trip and talks about moving in with Robert. ALF is absolutely hysterical in this episode with his one-liners and intense hatred towards mimes.
The rest of the episodes in the fourth season just aren't that impressive. There are some laughs here and there but the quality just isn't quite up to par. Not only that but the way that the show ends leaves things without closure; something that had to be gotten from a bad TV movie (Project: ALF). In the end the DVD sets end on roughly the same note that the show did when it came off the air. It's true what they say, it is better to burn out than fade away and at this point in the show things were faded indeed. A couple of gems reside among the roughage but even those aren't as great as some of the earlier episodes were.
Baby, Come Back
ALF is presented with a 1.33:1 aspect ratio which is basically what you'd expect from a show of this age. What you wouldn't expect though is the quality of the transfer. It has been my experience that revisiting old shows tends to hurt not only because of the content but because of the way it looks. Fortunately that's not the case at all with ALF. Yes the image does appear soft at times and sure it contains some bits of grain and edge enhancement, but apart from that there's really nothing to complain about. This is about as good as the show has ever looked and much better than those cruddy old VHS tapes you have kicking around.
As far as the sound department is concerned ALF sounds decent, but not great. The show is presented with a 2.0 stereo track with English as the only language and with no subtitles to boot. The quality is like I said, "decent", meaning the soundstage isn't very diverse and there isn't a lot of directionality or channel separation. I didn't encounter any technical glitches while I was watching the show though so in that regard things sound good.
Once again there are no extra features to talk about. Some funny bits are included in the menus but those are merely ALF talking and cracking jokes. In other words there is nothing here that will get fans excited.
Going back to a show from your youth can be a dangerous thing. More often than not things just aren't as good as we remember and it inevitably leads to disappointment. That's kind of where ALF comes in. I have fond memories of this fuzzy little alien but recall my interest waning when it was on the air; and with good reason. As the show went on the quality dropped and the fourth season is proof of that. There are a couple of good episodes here along with some mediocre ones, but the show's final year was nowhere near as good as the first or second. If you must have ALF in your life then by all means pick this up. Otherwise this is easily a rental for a few laughs.