THE FIRST DAY OF SHITMAS:
ALF'S SPECIAL CHRISTMAS
(1987)



Ho ho howdy folkses! It's been a hot minute hasn't it? Due to circumstances beyond our control (no more money) we've been forced to do some real work in order to replenish our stolen corporate funds. Interpol may have finally caught one of the thieves, but the money has never been recovered and our benefactor Intern Sparky cut us off as a lost cause at the end of March. So off we went to our various labors, and in just eight short months we've managed to scrimp and save just enough to open up the shop again. It's a goddamn Christmas Miracle!

Speaking of Christmas we've decided to bag it this year in favor of a parallel holiday that's better aligned with the spirit and aesthetic of Million Monkey Theater's admittedly dubious mission. Welcome to the First Day of The Twelve Days of Shitmas!


It's like regular Christmas
but with shittier gifts.

We're posting a brand new review of a Christmas Special every other day, culminating in what we consider the worst of the bunch on Christmas morning. Unlike regular Christmas where the twelve days run sequentially, Shitmas has a day off in between each review to recover from whatever abomination we've just had to endure, because hardened as we are from years of bad movie abuse there's still a limit to what even we can take.


Speaking of abuse, here's Alf's Special Christmas, perhaps the single most depressing holiday special ever made. It's relentlessly unamusing, deeply traumatic and a perverse portmanteau of abject miseries. Plus it's got a plush alien wisecracker who likes to eat cats.

I try not to get into debates over theology, but if we were to weigh every shred of evidence supporting the existence of God against the simple, undeniable reality of this one execrable special, I'd wager that even some hardcore evangelists would instantly abandon their faith and start drinking, gambling and whoring with the rest of us heathens. At the very least they'd have to admit that God has probably abandoned us. Probably in the 1980's. Probably right after this shit-show aired.


We begin with the Tanner family driving out along a desolate road to a remote cabin to celebrate Christmas the old-fashioned way: with no heat, electricity or indoor plumbing. Right away I am reminded why I so dislike Alf when he sings his own rendition of "The Twelve Days of Christmas," wherein his true love gives to him various quantities of dead cats prepared through a variety of culinary techniques. Now as a guy who rescues cats, cares for a colony of feral cats and pet-sits a metric shit-ton of cats on a regular basis, that's a gag tailor-made to turn me right the hell off at the outset. I get that I tilt a little to the extreme end of the felinophile spectrum, though, so I'm willing to ignore it. Just this once.

When the gang reaches the cabin Dad Tanner waxes whimsical about that one Christmas from his childhood when his unemployed father lost their house and the whole family got kicked out onto the streets right in the middle of the coldest December on record.


What an inspiring tale. Also what a dump.

It seems a wealthy fellow named Mr. Foley graciously allowed them to drive several hours away from their home town and live in this cold, desolate cabin until their situation improved and they were able to secure work and stable housing. No word on how much work was available in the middle of the woods far from the nearest populated area, or why Foley couldn't let them spend at least the holiday in his own nice, big warm house.

Dad Tanner makes a point of saying "We had no presents, no toys, nothing" but also that it was "the best Christmas I can remember!" Implicit in that statement, of course is that the Christmases he's spent with his current family have all been crap. Clearly this is a man with some deep regrets.

Alf, meanwhile has found what he thinks is a sprig of holly which he hopes might brighten up the dank interior of this blighted hovel. He got into the presents at some point, too, stole a sweater meant for Dad and re-labeled everything to make it appear as if all the gifts are from him. Oh, and it also turns out the "holly" is poison oak, which we only find out after dad has been fondling it with his bare hands for about five minutes.

The Tanner's Old Timey Country Christmas is off to a pretty rough start.


I hope they brought some Tecnu.

Dad gives Alf a lecture about his not understanding what Christmas is about (well, yeah, stupid...it's because he's a goddamn alien, remember?) and sends him out into the wilderness to get rid of the poison oak, telling him as he exits "don't hurry back!"

This was actually pretty good timing, as Alf spots a truck pulling up the mountain road and has just enough of a heads up to hide behind a boulder before the driver gets a glimpse of him. One of the tropes of the series, of course is that Alf can only allow himself to be seen by the endlessly understanding Tanners, lest someone else turn him in to the gub'mint to be interrogated, anally probed and ultimately dissected. He was, in fact captured by CIA agents at in the final episode of the overall series, which I feel was a fitting end to his desperately unfunny reign of sitcom terror.


Hopefully he ended up in a huge jar of formaldehyde on a warehouse shelf
in Area 51.

The visitor turns out to be Mr. Foley himself, the owner of the cabin and Dad Tanner's former benefactor. Foley is played by Cleavon Little, best known for his masterful turn as Bart the Sheriff in Mel Brooks' classic western parody Blazing Saddles (1974), and his appearance here shows just how far his career had descended from his glory days.


"Good mornin' ma'am! And isn't it a lovely mornin'?"

Mom Tanner invites Foley to stay for a meal, but he informs them he was just stopping by to see if they needed anything and is actually on his way to the hospital in town. It seems he spends the months leading up to Christmas repairing old toys, of which he has a truck full with him now and which he intends to distribute to the sick children while dressed as Black Santa. Meanwhile Alf decides to amuse himself by sneaking into the back of Foley's truck.

Mom Tanner asks Foley if his wife is feeling better and he pointedly avoids answering. As he deflects their inquiries he hands them an envelope, extracting from them a promise that they won't open it until Christmas morning. He gets in his truck and just before he pulls away he tells them his wife just died two weeks before.

Are we feeling the joy of the season yet, people?

We jump cut to Foley as Black Santa pushing a cart full of toys through the children's ward of the hospital with Alf sitting motionless and prominently placed atop the pile.


Well, that's an abrupt change of tone.

Black Santa hands out toys to all the sick children, and by the time he gets to the last little girl only Alf is left. The little girl for some reason thinks Alf is female and for some other, less believable reason thinks Alf is beautiful! She tells Black Santa she wishes she had a present to give to him and he gives a little speech about Christmas being not about presents but about giving of your self. It's sentimental claptrap but I must admit Cleavon Little does a fine job of making it feel authentic.

Now we get some "comedy" as the little girl Tiffany plays with Alf and squishes him up in the adjustable hospital bed. She decides to have a little tea party where she explains to Alf that another little girl used to be in the same room with her but that girl's parents had her moved because they didn't want her to get depressed when Tiffany died.


And a Merry Fucking Christmas to you, too.

When Tiffany decides that what Alf really needs are some nice earrings his manly feelings well up, and he puts a stop to the poor dying girl's delusional shenanigans. She takes his ability to speak pretty well, but she also wants to go tell the nurse about him, which of course is something Alf cannot allow. He decides he'd better come clean about who he is and the danger he's in being away from the protection of the Tanners, and he flat out asks for her help to get him out of the hospital.

Cut to the corridor where Tiffany finds Black Santa and trades Alf in for a teddy bear he has miraculously found, despite that just five minutes before he was completely out of toys.


It's always about you, isn't it Alf?
Narcissistic fuckwad.

So Amanda takes the teddy bear and Foley/Black Santa goes to talk to the Head Doctor, handing him an envelope with a donation for the hospital with the strict caveat that he not open it until Christmas. When the Head Doctor asks where to send the receipt Foley/Black Santa tells him not to bother.


It's because you're gonna jump off a bridge isn't it Black Santa? Please tell me you're not gonna jump off a fucking bridge.

The Head Doctor tells Foley about Tiffany's terminal condition, and about how her one dying wish was to meet Black Santa and know that he's real. Alf overhears this from the hallway and suddenly we're back in Tiffany's room, where she and Alf have a real heart to heart chat about exiting one world, ostensibly meaning Alf's home planet of Melmac, and leaving behind all your friends to go to a new world. Which is in no way a veiled conversation about Tiffany's impending and inevitable death, right?


Honestly...there's not enough egg nog in the whole world for this shit.

Back at the cabin Dad Tanner has completely ignored Foley's wishes and opened the envelope, in which he discovers the deed to the cabin. Dad Foley is taken aback by the extravagance of the gift, claiming "Mr. Foley hardly knows me!" Yeah, except for that time he rescued you and your entire family from destitution and homelessness.

Suddenly the Tanner Boy (I'm not looking up the kid's name because I honestly don't give a shit) finally notices that Alf has been missing for like the last twelve hours.


Uh...oops?

Now we're back in Tiffany's room, where she asks Alf to stay just until she falls asleep, and this time they talk directly about her fear of dying and of leaving this world to go to the next. Alf tells her it's okay to be afraid and that wherever she's going he's sure that everyone there will want to be her friend.

Okay, this scene actually really got to me. It's unexpectedly moving, full of deep, unvarnished feelings and genuine humanity. The rest of Alf's Special Christmas piles on one needlessly maudlin element after another and mixes in a bunch of hopelessly corny gags that seem completely out of step with the themes it's attempting to explore, but here we're given complete emotional authenticity tempered only by a childlike sweetness that feels utterly and powerfully real.


Shut up! There's just...something in my eye...

Don't get accustomed to this sudden uptick in dramatic quality, though because it definitely won't last.

The Tanners, meanwhile are spending their Christmas Eve searching the woods for their wayward alien pal, speculating on the various horrible fates that might befall him. Might he get caught in a trap? Might some hunter mistake him for a deer and shoot him? Who the fuck goes hunting in the middle of the night on Chrstmas Eve, anyway? Dad tanner sends the rest of the clan back to the cabin and goes on alone, assuring them that wherever Alf may be he's good at staying under cover.

Cut to the dumb ass alien hiding in plain sight next to a fish tank.


To be fair there's really no good place to hide when you've got a face like a sun-baked maggot.

As Alf sneaks around the hospital looking for a way out a man pulls up to the E.R. with a very pregnant wife. Alf hides under a gurney in the hallway and wouldn't you just know it? It's the very gurney the orderlies put the Pregnant Lady on! Through a plot contrivance too stupid for me to bother describing the Pregnant Lady ends up in the elevator by herself and just at that moment the elevator gets stuck between floors! And oh nos! All of the maintenance people in this very respectable and responsible hospital have gone home for the night! Sounds perfectly legit to me! The Head Doctor, (who is apparently the only doctor in the entire building) sends the orderly to fetch Foley/Black Santa, because if a guy can fix a broken Tonka truck he can probably fix an elevator, too, right?

Pregnant Lady, as you might have guessed (you clever people) goes into labor at this very moment and begins screaming in unbearable pain, "someone please help me! For the love of all fuck! Please kill me now I'm in fucking agony!"


Comedy. Fucking. Gold.

As if she's not traumatized enough by this unfortunate turn of events, up pops Alf wearing scrubs and a surgical mask and sweet chocolate Jesus he's gonna deliver the fucking baby, isn't he?


Yes. Yes he is.

Well, as it turns out Black Santa actually can't fix an elevator, which they only discover after he's already torn open the electrical panel and probably damaged it beyond any attempt at salvaging. He does suggest that they try to get in through the hatch in the elevator roof, however so Head Doctor and Hapless Husband go tearing up to try to pry open the doors and drop in on Pregnant Lady from above. In the interim Alf has somehow found a handy coffee table book describing in some detail the process of human birth.


How very convenient.

In a brutal piece of dramatic irony Hapless Husband hears the first cries of his own newborn child through the wall of the hospital stairwell. New Mom, meanwhile moons over her baby girl and tries to decide on an appropriate name, and in a further, even more brutal piece of dramatic Irony Alf suggests she name her Tiffany.


Because fuck you Alf's Special Christmas.

Now we jump cut to Foley, no longer dressed as Black Santa, wheeling his cart out of the hospital with Alf sitting atop it, and with no explanation of how the little furry shit escaped the elevator. Head Doctor, like Dad Tanner has also ignored Foley's wishes and opened his envelope early. He confronts Foley in the corridor. The amount, he insists must be Foley's entire life savings, and he asks him to come back and discuss the matter in a couple of days. Foley says he has other plans and Head Doctor begins a little lecture about "when someone loses a loved one..." But Foley isn't having it. He puts on his cap and leaves.


"I've got a date with a goddamn bridge, asshole."

I take umbrage with this entire exchange. Head Doctor has clearly divined that Foley is about to commit suicide, but he just stands there like a fencepost and watches him leave the hospital, making absolutely zero effort to stop him. I work in the mental health field, but because I am not a medical provider it's almost impossible for me to do a 302, or involuntary commitment, myself, even if a client expresses to me that they wish to self-harm. I can call law enforcement to do the 302 for me, which can take precious time, or attempt to persuade the person to go to the E.R themselves, but the point is that when the intent to self-harm is suspected it's just too big a risk to ignore. As a medical professional Head Doctor would have the authority to complete a 302 all by himself. He clearly suspects Foley's intent, and by allowing him to walk out of that hospital he's committing a heinous and actionable act of malpractice.


I smell a lawsuit.

Back at the cabin Dad Tanner has given up searching and is now trying to assemble Tanner Boy's new bicycle. There's a Tanner Girl someplace, too, but she's only got about three lines total and if I couldn't be bothered to look up her brother's name I'm sure as shit not gonna waste my time looking up hers.

Tanner Boy asks if Alf is ever coming home and Dad assures him he will. Tanner Boy looks at the window and says "I sure hope it doesn't snow."

We cut to Foley's truck driving down a lonely road while "Silent Night" plays on the radio. In the back we see Alf sitting among the empty boxes wearing the Santa costume for warmth. There's a rather good long, lingering shot of Foley sitting behind the wheel, and as he drives the windshield fogs over and a heavy, wet snowfall begins. Cleavon Little plays this quiet moment perfectly with a grim and fatalistic dignity. There's a lame joke here where the radio DJ introduces a rendition of "White Christmas" sung by Perry Como, who happens to be Alf's favorite singer. Alf hears this exciting news from the back of the truck and his ears immediately perk up, but just as the song begins Foley shuts the radio off. He stops the truck, takes a deep breath and opens the door. We cut to a wide shot to discover...


Yep. It's a fucking bridge.

So let's recap the pertinent events so far in this jolly, uplifting Yuletide confection, shall we?

Homeless family with a jobless father? Check! Desolate Christmas in a drafty, primitive cabin? Check! Hopeless old man with a dead wife? Check! Terminally ill little girl who will surely die before she sees another holiday season? Check! Horrifying childbirth while stuck in an elevator? Check! Snowy Christmas Eve suicide attempt? Check and mate!

Aren't you just bursting with that joyful holiday spirit?

Good!

Let's continue, then.

As absolutely every single person who's ever watched this accursed thing doubtless anticipated since Foley's very first mention of his dead wife, he goes all George Bailey in It's a Wonderful Life now, staring down at the water through the falling snow, climbing up on the slippery railing and preparing to take his final leap into the great beyond. Just as he's about to jump, though, he's suddenly interrupted by...


...Santa's Little Helper.

Yes, our furry, vertically challenged hero has finally discovered the true meaning of Christmas, which is that just because you can't keep a sick little girl from kicking the proverbial bucket you oughtn't let a lonely old man kick it himself.

So Santa Alf decides he's going to try to talk Foley out of jumping, and at first Foley thinks Alf is just a figment of his own imagination. After a bit of banter about aliens and spaceships and--I shit you not--conservative political pundit William F. Buckley, however, Foley decides that Alf must actually be the real Santa Claus! Uh-huh...

How anyone, however distressed, could mistake a short, fat, butt-ugly talking furball for a beloved mythical character derived from the exploits of a real-life Turkish-Greek bishop and saint is far beyond the mandate of this humble review, dear readers. We come to trash-talk Alf's Special Christmas, not to explain it, and we're almost through this thing, so let's not waste too much time attempting the impossible.

So Alf now uses the knowledge of Foley's life he's gleaned throughout the program to convince him he has a continuing role to play as a kind of Santa surrogate. He insists that Foley, whether he realizes it or not, has always had a special talent for making others happy, just like he did for the homeless Tanner family he allowed to use his cabin all those years ago, and just like he did for the dying little girl to whose face he brought one last Christmas smile!

Oh, gawd...I think I just threw up in my mouth a little. This scene is particularly hollow, treacly and ineffective. It tries, like the special as a whole, to have it both ways, to play a tragic scenario for cheap laughs and even cheaper sentimentality. I never really watched the show, so maybe that's just the way Alf operated, but it's an almost impossible tightrope act it's manifestly incapable of pulling off.


"I've got my schtick and I'm schticking to it!"

In the end, of course Alf succeeds in talking Foley down. They hop in the truck and Alf asks Foley to drop him off with Dad Tanner because "I've been thinking about recruiting that guy." Nice save, maggot face!

We get one last, desperate piece of cornpone humor as Foley insists Alf enter the cabin through the chimney. Inside the Tanners hear something fumbling above and suddenly Alf appears upside-down in the fireplace, mere inches away from incinerating his alien noggin on the smoldering embers.


Oh, if only...

I'll bet you thought that would be the end, that despite all the angst and tragedies you've just been subjected to you'd at least be treated to a relatively light-hearted and reasonably happy ending? Well you've underestimated the abject cruelty of Alf's Special Christmas, because now we get a tag scene in which we see Foley fixing Tiffany's adjustable hospital bed (does he work there, or do they just let him fuck around with their expensive equipment for shits and giggles?) and suddenly the Tanners appear with some gifts in tow. They tell Tiffany they have a "mutual friend" who told them all about her and show her a polaroid of Alf to seal the deal.


"That's him! I'd know him anywhere! That motherfucker ate all my cookies!"

Tanner Boy gives her the presents and Dad Tanner takes Foley aside to return the deed to the cabin...not because he doesn't appreciate the gesture or want the cabin, but because he doesn't want to pay the property taxes. Yeah, I'm not making that up.

Mom Tanner, meanwhile tells Tiffany to look out the window...




...and Alf and Tiffany share one last, distant goodbye before he and the Tanners drive away and out of her life, leaving her to die alone.

Surprisingly this special has a very positive 8.5/10 rating on IMDB. I suppose if you came to it as a fan of the series, already emotionally invested in the regular characters, you'd be predisposed to like it. For the rest of us though, boy-howdy is this ever an ordeal! Even so I have to admire the chutzpah of taking what is an absurd sitcom premise and using it to confront so much harsh and desperate reality.

At no point did they shy away from the inevitability of Tiffany's death. They offered no apologies, magical reprieves or deus-ex-machina cures for her illness, and that was really quite a bold and impressive decision.

The genuinely touching scene in Tiffany's room just about redeems the whole production, but in the end it's not so much the subject matter as the uncomfortably shifting moods that undermine the dramatic and comic effectiveness of Alf's Special Christmas.


The End

One last thing:



Tiffany was based on a real little girl whom Alf's creator Paul Fusco met through the Make-a-Wish foundation. Her parents credit his taking the time to speak with her with adding at least a full month to her brief life.

Merry Christmas, folkses.


Next Installment: December 5th!



As always, Cheers and thanks for reading!

Written by Bradley Lyndon in December, 2019.

Questions? Comments? Expressions of disgust? Why not skip the middleman and complain to me directly?



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