Well folks, I think it’s finally happened. I think I have finally snapped. Why else would I come up with the craziest sitcom face off ever :
Well, they are a little alike. They are both shows about a boring family being shaken up by a stranger who appears out of nowhere. Not enough? I’m doing it anyway! Mr.Belvedere came along on ABC in 1985, Alf on NBC in 1986. They are two cheesy, corny, over the top 80’s shows that were not critically acclaimed….but we loved them! But, which one was better?
Well I don’t think you can get two more different characters. Alf was a fun loving guy, er, alien. Gordom Shumway literally crashed into the Tanner’s garage one night and they spent the next few years hiding him. Yeah he was accident prone, often incosniderate, sarcastic, and loved to eat especially cats but deep down he was a good person who really cared for the family. Mr.Belvedere was the opposite of ALF. He had been a butler for some very important people by the time he arrived at the Ownen doorstep. While he was wise and refined he was not a snob. He taught the family how to relax and that, as the theme song said, “life was more than mere survival”. So who winS? I knew you were going to ask that. Mr.Belvedere grew to really care for the family, and they him, but he didn’t really change. He was the same guy when he left that he was when he arrived. Alf did change, as he got closer to the Tanner’s he became a better alien. Also we saw more depth of character with him. He could be bored, sad, and even depressed. At one point he even got his room rather than just living in the laundry room. While the Owens family changed (we will get to that), Mr.Belvedere just didn’t. I think Alf learned as much from the Tanner’s as they did from him, and was a stronger character because of it.
These two share a lot in common to. They are two happy, loving couples trying to deal with this intrusion in their perfect little lives. In Mr.Belvedere it was George who was aggravated with Belvedere. In ALF it was Kate who had trouble dealing with ALF (at least in the beginning). I liked how while Willie, played by Max Wright, would get aggravated with ALF, he really did admire him. On Belvedere George really liked Belvedere they just got off on the wrong foot. They were both hard working people. George worked as a sprtscaster, of course played by the likable Bob Ueker. Marsha went through an arc of getting her law degree which she did finally. On ALF, Willie was….oh wait, he was a social worker. Kate…waht the hell did Kate do? It says a lot I know more about George and Marsha when I watched ALF a lot more than Mr.Belvedere. I think that George and Marsha were more fleshed out, unlike Willie and Kate who were basically there to just react to ALF and that was it. Winner is clear. By the way, I love that the family on ALF was The Tanner’s, the same as on Full House. I once wrote a story where there was a crossover where both met. Why nto, they both lived in California? Imahine the hijinks when Michelle runs into ALF. Man I had weird ideas. Anyway…..
The kids in these shows were pretty bland. But at least we got to know the Ownens’s a little better. Kevin was the older brother and often got in trouble as many teenagers do. Heather was the middle sister and…that was about it. Then there was Wesley. What can you say about this devil child? He wasn’t even cute, he was just a menace! On Alf we had Lynn and Brian. Lynn was ok, Alf even had a crush on her once, but man was Brian boring. So boring the show had to bring other people in toward the end (we’ll get to that). The winner comes from simple thing, the growth of these kids. Especially Wesley. It would have been so easy for Belvedere to hate Wesley and vice versa, instead they grew to be really fond of each other despite their bickering and pranks. But they really learned to appreciate and understand each other. In the end Wesley is a responsible young man, a far cry from the devil seed he started as. Their friendship is one of my favorites on any show.
There weren’t really any supproting characters in Mr.Belvedere worth noting. Oh sure we had Heather’s dim witted friend Angela who was just so adorable in her absent mindedness. How could she get Belvedere’s name THAT wrong?? But aside from The Happy Guys there wasn’t anyone to speak. ALF wasn’t the first show to have obnoxious neighbors, but they were one of the most notable. The Ochmonocks were over constatly, and their slobbish life style would turn anyone off to being their friends. Trevor was played by John LaMotta and before she was Seinfeld’s mom, Raquel was played by Liz Sheridan. They really did a great job giving these characters their own idebtities. Oh, and I should mention that Belvedere did technically have beighbors, the Hufnagels, who Wesley would torment but they were never seen therefore do not count. Besides, Alf had Bill Daly on as a psychiatrist friend of Willy in a clear homage to his role on The Bob Newhart Show. I loved that!
Easy one. While I love the theme music which opens ALF, especially the jazzy vesion we got after season 2, I ADORE the Leon Redbone tune which opened Mr.Belvedere. It’s easily one of my favorite theme songs ever! Never heard it? Click below and check it out!!
Here is where I decide which show did a better job telling their stories. Alf was full of broad gags as Alf managed to destroy and/or eat something in nearly every episode. He was like the alien version of Steve Urkel. But that being said he was a nice guy, er alien. When he did mess up he tried to fix it, it’s not as if he didn’t care. He also helped the Tanner’s out when they were in trouble. Oh yeah sometimes he would get them in more trouble, but his heart was in the right place. We also got some insight into how lonely he was being his planet’s sole survivor. In one episode ALF actually contacts some of his race with Willie’s aid. This was great, Willie acting to help and the in the end ALF decides he cares to much for the Tanner’s to leave. There were many good episodes, one with a fantastic Gilligan’s Island homage, that I never forgot. Mr.Belvedere could be silly, they would pull out some very broad gags that didn’t seem to always fit, however they were not afraid to tackle things that many shows still wont touch, like pedophilia or drug abuse. It was their ability to keep it serious that earned them a little more respect than other campy shows of the time. The difference though, is that I think the Tanner’s were there for ALF more than the Owens were there for Belvedere. Now I never saw every episode so maybe I am wrong but I just never saw a time when he was sad or depressed or needed help. Heck there is one episode which is one of my favorites where he gets into a car accident chasing after Wesley, and rather than explore Belvedere’s feelings the focus turns more on Wesley and how he is dealong with it. It’s a great episode but why was the focus taken off Belvedere? Maybe that’s why they did the journal gag at the end of every episode, it was the only time we ever got a glimpse into what he was feeling. So who wins? Well for me this is a personal choice. Alf is one of those shows which brings back such wonderful memories for me as a kid in the 80’s. Especially when it was paired with The Hogan Family for awhile. I never had quite that same affection for Mr.Belvedere, in fact it was on for awhile before I even started watching it. I never even saw the first season until I got the DVD. My heart belongs with ALF.
JUMPING THE SHARK
So how did ALF end? PAINFULLY!!! I think we all know this story but before we get to that, let me talk about the final season. It sucked. I stopped watching. The show was just running out of ideas, and then they started having more people become aware ALF’s presence which hurt more than helped. The focus was gone. Then the final episode…oh man. ALF contacts his surviving relatives (or whatever) just as the Alien Task Force is finally aware of Alf’s existence. I am going by memory here and will not force myself to sit through the episode again, but basically ALF is waiting for his ride home when he misses it, and the Alien Task Force surrounds him. To Be Continued! Ok, what then? CANCELELD!!!! What the hell? ABC had a TV movie years later which was bad but at least it resolved this stuipid final episode. As for Mr.Belvedere, the exact opposite. The episode had Belvedere getting married and moving to Africa with his wife. It’s a small finale but it really closes the book on the series. The Owens family really evovled over the years and we could see he loved them as mich as they loved him. So which was the better show? I feel I am biased for ALF since I was a kid when it was on. Well if I take my nostalgia goggles off I have to be honest. Alf ran out of ideas real fast. Mr.Belvedere (based by the way on a novel and movie) just had the better structure. When it was silly, it went all the way. When it was serious, it was dead serious. The people on the show felt more like real people and we got to know them a lot better. Besides it managed six seasons when ALF barely managed four, that has to count for something. One last note, from what I have read working on ALF was HELL! Let’s just say putting that show on was not pleasant. Alf was a lot of fun but I think Mr.Beledere was a little better.
FINAL THOUGHTS-Man, this is the last time I write a blog the same day a full moon falls on a Friday the 13th!