Dec 14, 2012

Alf: from Melmac to West Hollywood

Alf (1986-90) was one of the "I've got a secret" sitcoms of the late 1980s (others included Harry and the Hendersons, Out of This World, and My Secret Identity).  It aired on Monday nights, opposite the female buddy-bonding Kate and Allie and the hunkfest MacGyver, so I rarely watched.  But you couldn't miss hearing about Alf, the sarcastic, irreverent Alien Life Form who crash-lands on Earth and imposes himself upon a nuclear family: nebbish Dad Willie Tanner, Mom Kate, eye-rolling teenage daughter Lynn, lonely preteen son Brian (Benji Gregory), and outcast Cousin Jake (Josh Blake).

Like all of the "family friendly" sitcoms of the 1980s, gay people did not exist.  Gay actor Jim J. Bullock had a recurring role as Uncle Neal, but his character was heterosexual.  Actually, every character was heterosexual.  Alf had a girlfriend back home, and started dating a blind woman (who didn't realize that he was an alien). Even ten-year old Brian had his share of crushes on girls (later photo, left).

Some teen idol attention fell upon Josh Blake, with some shirtless and semi-nude photos in teen magazines. His character was heterosexual, too, but his awkward attempts to form emotional connections with Alf allow for some gay readings.

Alf ended on a cliffhanger, with the government discovering Alf and carting him away.  Five years later, the movie Project Alf (1995) continues his story.  Fans were universally livid with rage; the Tanners were absent (none of the original cast wanted to be involved) and Alf was portrayed as far more antisocial and belligerent than in the tv series.  And he gets to make a homophobic crack about the army's "Don't ask, don't tell" policy.