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A.L.F. (Alien Life Form)

by yo go re

Having previously done one of the most famous, friendliest aliens of the 1980s (and member of the Green Lantern Corps), NECA has now opted to do the second. If in 2034, NECA announces they've got the Mork from Ork license, just remember that we called it.

ALF crash-landed through the roof of the Tanner family's garage and square into the hearts and homes of America's television viewers. This short, furry Alien Life Form quickly surprised everyone with his perfect English, urbane wit, and unusual customs and habits.

There are so many weird stories related to the production of ALF, and almost none of them are good. Puppeteer Paul Fusco, who created the show and voiced ALF, was a perfectionist, but also hated rehersals and so would insist on working things out live on stage. He allegedly insisted on everyone treating the puppet like it was a living being, not a prop. He turned down the opportunity to work with Jim Henson because he didn't want the public associating ALF with the Muppets. The show's set had to be built on risers, with trapdoors installed everywhere so the puppeteers had room to work; this was obviously hazardous for the human actors who had to walk around, but if anyone ever looked down at their feet, the take was cut and everyone had to start again. Between the time needed to set up the trapdoors and the insistance on multiple takes, it would take 20-25 hours of on-set acting to shoot a single episode (compared to 8-10 hours for a typical sitcom). Perhaps most famously, Max Wright, who played family patriarch Willie, hated the show so much that the instant the final shoot finished, he went straight to his car and left, not even saying goodbye to his costars of the last four years.

But hey, now there's an action figure!

ALF (the puppet, not the show) was created when Fusco was doing a series of specials for Showtime (the cable channel, not the pizza place) in the early '80s. He set the idea aside until he could do something with it for himself - when he was pitching the show, Disney was interested, but they would have owned the character, so he held out for another studio. The ALF the public eventualy met has a long, segmented snout, a few short fangs, huge ears, beady black eyes beneath heavy eyebrows, and a wave of totally '80s hair falling to his left.

ALF's full body was seen a few times on the show, portrayed by a little person wearing a costume. He has a short, pudgy body with cartoonish proportions, and is entirely covered by brown fur; Thomas Gwyn had a lot to sculpt here! The weirdest element has to be his feet, which not only have pads on the bottom of the toes, but also on the front? Special shout-out to the user who really put the "deviant" in "DeviantArt" by uploading pictures of ALF's feet so we could verify that this was correct. Not sure why they (NECA, not the unnamed foot-pervert) felt the need to give the toy a little "collar" of fur around the neck, but they did do a nice job sculpting his tiny, curved tail.

The toy's articulation is great. He has swivel/hinge ankles, swivel/hinge knees, swivel thighs, balljointed hips, balljointed chest, swivel/hinge wrists, double-swivel/​hinge elbows, swivel/hinge shoulders, balljointed neck, and then... there's the head. The neck and the upper half of the head are separate pieces, joined by a balljoint on the top of the neck. And then the lower jaw is on a balljoint as well, in the front of the neck, meaning both halves of the mouth can move independently of each other! That kind of combo wouldn't work on a lot of figures, but it's really nice the way it works here.

ALF was popular enough that it got a cartoon spin-off, and the show revealed that Melmacians typically wear clothes, meaning ALF was just walking around naked in the Tanners' house. You know, in case it wasn't already weird enough that he had a crush on the family's teenage daughter. If you recall what we said above about everyone being expected to treat the puppet like it was real? The show, ALF, revealed that the alien's real name was Gordon Shumway, but that he preferred to be called ALF. However, that's just on TV. So basically, Paul Fusco created a puppet he called "ALF"; ALF was an alien actor who got a job on a sitcom playing a character named Gordon Shumway, but the character Gordon wanted to be known, in turn, as ALF. Is this confusing or what? Whatever you want to call him, Gordie comes with a softgoods shirt to turn him into an untooned version of his cartoon self. It's a yellow Hawaiian shirt with colorful springs and gears on it. He also has a pair of sunglasses to up his cool factor.

ALF's accessories include five alternate hands (three sized to hold different things, two pointing), a bowl of popcorn, a can of legally-not-Pepsi Fusco Cola (they had to swap the red and blue sections between the prototype and production), a bag of slimeballs (a Melmacian delicacy), a framed photo of his girlfriend, Rhonda, the ham radio he used to try to contact any other survivors of Melmac, and a cat between two pieces of bread. On Melmac, cats were the equivalent of chickens, which is why he was always trying to eat them; this one is colored more like Lucky II, the cat from the final season, than like the original Lucky.

The only reason ALF got on the air was that NBC was desperate: for the 1983/4 television season, they'd introduced nine new shows... and every single one of them had failed. They were the lowest-rated network for the year. For the ninth year running, in fact. No network had gotten ratings that low since 1957. Although the network had begun to turn things around, they were still willing to take some big chances. ALF started slow in 1986, but gained audience during summer reruns, and by Season 2 was consistently winning its night and bringing anything put in the time slot behind it up as well. ALF became a massive marketing icon with tons of merch, but has never had an action figure until now. Considering how firmly Fusco tries to promote his Alien Life Form, we wonder whether NECA approached Alien Productions or Alien Productions approached NECA for this toy. It's amazingly well made and has fun accessories that make sense, and is one of the unlikeliest licenses we've seen. It's an utter mess of a show, a weird relic of its time that's often used more for a punchline than for nostalgia. Nobody was expecting an Ultimate ALF, but this turned out great.

-- 05/28/23

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