From Modern Mythcraft to Magical Surrealism

Geek Flashback: ALF for President

With the US Presidential Election in just a few days, I thought we should look back at another hotly contested race: Kate Tanner vs. Gordon Shumway (aka ALF).

In case you live in a cave, or simply have good taste in television: ALF was a sitcom on NBC from 1986 to 1990. It starred “ALF,” an Alien Life Form who hails from the planet Melmac. One day he crash lands in the Tanner family’s garage, and they take him in out of pity or sheer stupidity. Stuck in the house for his own protection, ALF gets into more trouble than the children, Brian and Lynn. ALF is a force of destruction as much as a source of heart-warming family values, as the Tanners teach him about humanity. It’s a case study in suburbia, with frequent commentary on life through ALF’s sarcastic wise cracks and questioning nature.

Don’t get me wrong. I loved this show…when I was eight. It still has its moments. Oddly, I only just noticed that Max Wright, the actor who plays Willie Tanner, seems to be channeling Christopher Walken. Now that would be a sitcom.

Anyway, in the second season episode, “Hail to the Chief,” ALF struggles to understand the American political system after watching a Presidential debate on television. We’ve all been there, ALF. It’s interesting to see the show’s simplistic portrayal of world issues of the 1980s. Anyone remember the Soviet Union? Through a series of dream sequences, wife and mother Kate Tanner imagines what it would be like to run for President of the United States; surely managing an unruly extraterrestrial while raising a family is as much a qualification as governing Alaska, eh? In each sequence, ALF alternates among the roles of moderator, debater, image consultant, and finally President elect–where he solves all of America’s problems by building more houses.

Amazingly, political commentator and host John McLaughlin guest stars as the debate moderator, doing no worse a job than some of his real world counterparts in recent weeks. And if you listen closely, one of the candidates even name drops Joe Biden!

So check out this slice of American life, as it was on December 7, 1987. And while you watch, see if you don’t consider that things actually might not be worse if ALF were President. Too bad there’s that pesky Constitutional stipulation against aliens running for office.



ALF at Amazon

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