A Meditation On The Genius of ALF’s Staff Writers

So I sit down in front of my Tivo the other day and find not one but four episodes of ALF recorded. Turns out that my roommates saw that they were doing The Top N Episodes of ALF on TV Land and snagged at least four of them. Good luck for me. When Rock Chalk got home from work we sat down to watch one of them. Now is perhaps the right time to inform you that I was neither drunk nor high on anything when watching this show, so all the below analysis and comment is purely based on a sober reasoning of the Art of ALF.

The episode we watched was entitled “Ballad of Gilligan’s Island”. The short summary is that ALF thinks his life in the Tanner household is boring and he wishes he lived on Gilligan’s Island, where every day is full of fun and surprises. He builds a lagoon in the backyard, Willy yells at him and tells him to fill it back in, and when he gets tired shoveling ALF falls asleep and has a dream where he is on Gilligan’s Island. He learns his lesson that Gilligan’s Island isn’t much more exciting than his own life and then wakes up and is glad he lives with Willy and the family.

It’s a rather unexceptional episode, but it showcases some things that a.) I never much noticed when I was a child watching ALF on a regular basis, and b.) absolutely stunned me to see in a network situation comedy.

The most interesting thing about the writing quality of ALF is the fact that sometimes the writers used words that I don’t know. I am a rather humble person but there are two things with which you should not fuck with around me: presume to have a better sense of direction than me or presume to think you have a better vocabulary than me. I am excellent at both, and have laid the vocab smackdown on Wirkuswhazz many times (see the “fiat” bet from Amy and Paul’s Wedding story for one example). Amazingly, ALH whipped out 1 word I just plain had never heard, plus 2 that I struggled with to explain to Rock Chalk. The amazing thing about the usage of these words is that they weren’t played for laughs (as in, “I’m going to say this word and everyone will laugh at ALF’s response to such a big, tough-sounding word.”) ALF and Willy just use big, complex words and then move on without comment. Example 1: Willy and ALF are having a conversation and ALF makes a comment about Willy having an erudite observation.

From the indispensible Dictionary.com:

erudite

\Er”u*dite\ (?; 135), a. [L. eruditus, p. p. of erudire to free from rudeness, to polish, instruct; e out + rudis rude: cf. F. [‘e]rudit. See Rude.] Characterized by extensive reading or knowledge; well instructed; learned. “A most erudite prince.” –Sir T. More. “Erudite . . . theology.” –I. Taylor. — Er\”u*dite`ly, adv. — Er\”u*dite`ness, n.

Holy fuck, ALF, where’d you pull that from?

Later on, after ALF’s new backyard lagoon is fallen into by Willy and he is ordered to fill it in, Willy’s daughter brings ALF a glass of lemonade. His response is our Example number 2: “Thanks, the water here [in the lagoon] was getting a bit brackish.”

Now, I know what brackish water is because when I went to visit Wirkuswhazz in Louisiana and I got a temporary fishing license I had to state whether it was for freshwater, saltwater, or brackish water. But on a whole, what percentage of America knows what brackish means?

Finally, the knockout punch of the episode is a one-two combination from the Professor of Gilligan’s Island fame. Gilligan complains that with all the Professor’s ability and intelligence, he was never able to build them a boat. Professor responds that if not for Skipper’s “hepatudinal little buddy” they would have escaped a long time ago. That word stomped on my vocabulary’s nuts. I still can’t find it in the dictionary. And lest you think the word is made up, I think it isn’t because when ALF said “hepatudinal?” the Professor responded, “Yes, addlepated.” Now, addlepated IS a word that I know.

Again, from Dictionary.com:

addlepated
adj.

1. Befuddled; confused.
2. Eccentric; peculiar: � [Her] estates… are odes to addlepated excess, a melange of priceless antiques and thrift-store horrors� (Michelle Green).
3. Senseless; mad: �led the addlepated charge of the Light Brigade at Balaclava� (Thomas Flanagan).

As Anthony pointed out to me at lunch today, there are many shows that sneak in big, complex-sounding words to up the “nerdy” factor or the admiration among insiders. Consider Futurama, with its quantum mechanics inside jokes or the many binary references in the background. But while it and many others like it take a science path to the intellectual vocabulary high road, ALF is one of the first (if not THE first show) that has more of a high literary vocabulary. This fact, coupled with the highly realistic conversations between “friends” on the show and the interesting use of strange scenes with seeming spirals of meta-ness all make me want to declare ALF High Art.

To anyone who laughs this off immediately, I encourage you to see some episodes with an open mind with regard to the topic, and report back with your opinions.

–whazz on

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