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By Tom Keough

"He's just like E.T.," says a character of the fuzzy extraterrestrial stranded on Earth in the pilot episode of ALF. But the fun of this late 1980s family sitcom is that the sardonic ALF (an acronym for Alien Life Form) is nothing like the interplanetary innocent of Steven Spielberg's classic.

With his whiplash wit and huckster sensibility, ALF (real name: Gordon Shumway from the late planet Melmac, Lower East Side) enters the lives of the Tanner family as a fully formed rascal whose spacecraft crashes into their garage one night. Worried that the feds will chop ALF up for research purposes, the Tanners--father Willie (Max Wright), a cautious civil servant who doesn't like a lot of fuss at home; wife Kate (Anne Shedeen), and kids Lynn (Andrea Elson) and Brian (Benji Gregory)--reluctantly take ALF in like a shambling, profligate uncle who cracks wise despite having fallen on hard times.

There is a touch of darkness to ALF that inspires some interesting episodes. While most of season 1's episodes find the Tanners and their permanent guest struggling with compatibility, certain stories are sharper for indulging a little black comedy. "Looking for Lucky," for instance, finds Willie and Kate assuming that ALF--who is quite open about his fondness for eating cats--made a snack out of the family kitty. In "Pennsylvania 6-5000," Willie is accused of being a terrorist after ALF uses his host's ham radio to contact Air Force One.

One of the best episodes, "Wild Thing" (written by David Silverman, later a co-producer on The Simpsons), is a nutty burlesque in which ALF asks the Tanners to lock him in a crate while he undergoes a 24-hour madness peculiar to Melmac-ians. After he escapes, chaos ensues in the community as cats disappear, a gorilla is freed at the zoo, and Willie--looking for ALF--prowls the streets in his pajamas.

Fans of Jerry Stahl's book Permanent Midnight: A Memoir, in which the Hollywood writer describes working on ALF while supporting a severe drug habit, will be interested in his season 1 scripts, particularly the surreal "La Cucaracha," in which ALF and Willie do battle with a car-size cockroach.

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Aired: September 22, 1986 - June 18, 1990

Cast: Max Wright, Anne Schedeen, Paul Fusco (voice of Alf)

Network: NBC

Genre: Sitcom

Theme song

Image courtesy of NBC

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