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The Wild Ending of ALF, Explained

Revisiting the loneliest moment in our favorite wise-cracking alien’s Earth journey.

By Benjamin Bullard
ALF sits at a table and holds a piece of paper.

The 1980s was an absolute golden age for scripted comedy, which probably explains how a show as offbeat and distinctive as ALF (streaming now on Peacock!) ever managed to crash-land its way to a weekly time slot on mainstream network TV.

After all, there are only so many Earthly places where you can set a 30-minute sitcom before finally casting your eyes toward outer space — and amid a solid NBC lineup that already covered tons of human territory (from the bar at Cheers to A Different World’s college campus to the dingy judicial halls of Night Court), ALF injected a unique jolt of science fiction into the network’s decidedly more grounded laugh lineup.

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Orange, ornery, and obsessed with tasty, delicious cats (hey, they were a delicacy on his distant home planet of Melmac!), ALF gave TV audiences in the late 1980s something spaced-out and different, reviving a small but vital sci-fi sitcom thread that previously had blipped onto viewers’ intermittent radar in shows like The Greatest American Hero and Mork & Mindy. Through four seasons and 99 episodes, ALF and its titular sass-mouthed puppet star wormed its irascible way into the hearts of the show’s host Tanner family after falling straight out of the sky and onto their suburban rooftop — all while staying one step ahead of the government’s big, bad Alien Task Force (ATF) to keep the existence of extraterrestrials a well-preserved secret.

What happened to Alf (and the Tanners!) in that strange final episode?

As nostalgic fans know, ALF ran for four seasons from 1986 until the 1990 episode that served as its series finale, though the show was meant to stretch on into a fifth season before being canceled — but only after filming on that fateful cliffhanger episode already had finished. Titled “Consider Me Gone,” the final episode initially was intended to keep fans tuned in to learn what became of Alf (and the Tanners, for that matter) in the wake of a big, big twist in its long-running alien-secrecy plot — a twist that was set to take the series in an entirely new direction.

“Consider Me Gone” starts out with Alf fooling around with the Tanners’ short-wave radio, which amazingly picks up a distant signal that Alf never imagined he’d hear: It’s coming from his fellow Melmacians! Years after the nuclear destruction of their home planet, Alf learns from the signal that a survivor ship is heading toward Earth to snatch him up on a rendezvous mission — though it’s definitely a high-stakes sort of deal. Thanks to the Alien Task Force’s always-watchful eyes in the sky, the Melmacians have only got one shot to beam Alf up and whisk him away… or else the chance to ever reunite with his own kind will be gone for good.

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After some sentimental farewells around the dinner table, dad Willie Tanner (the late Max Wright), mom Kate (Anne Schedeen) and the kids all load up the station wagon to carry Alf out to the signal’s coordinates, where he’ll be picked up in the dark of night and carried away into space. What they don’t know, though, is that the Alien Task Force (led by actor Richard Fancy, familiar to Seinfeld fans as Elaine’s persnickety boss Mr. Lippman) has been eavesdropping on Alf’s radio blips the entire time — and they’re ready and waiting to ambush the family at the alien rendezvous point.

Alf is bathed in light in ALF.

This is where things really got awkward for ALF’s final episode. Right at the moment that the ATF swoops in to score points for humanity by capturing Earth’s first-ever alien visitor, the Melmacian spaceship gets spooked and flies away, while Alf (and the Tanners) realize that there’s nowhere to run. Standing all alone in the spaceship’s fleeting spotlight before it scoots off toward the stars, Alf gets pincered in by his government captors. In typical Alf style, he tries to break the ice with a little light banter — “Hey guys, you wanna grab a brewski?!” — but the military men in suits surround him… and it’s the last thing we see in both the episode and the series.

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ALF fans would for years go on to theorize about what became of their wise-cracking hero after that moment. Did the ATF kidnap him and run him through a gauntlet of alien life-form experiments? Did Alf somehow manage to escape and make contact with Skip and Rhonda — two of the only other alien survivors from Melmac who the show ever names? Did the Tanners get hauled in for questioning after being outed for harboring an E.T. fugitive? Though it’s since been removed from the original episode in the wake of the series’ cancelation, all those possibilities and more were teased with an on-screen “To be continued” message, meant to prime viewers for the start of a fifth ALF season that never came.

The Project: ALF TV Movie 

ALF creator and puppeteer Paul Fusco (who voiced the character in every episode) did eventually get the chance to put a tidy bow on all those lingering mysteries. In 1996, the made-for-TV movie Project: ALF debuted, putting our hairy hero in the crosshairs of a crazy assassination plot at the hands of an ATF security officer with a thing for hating on aliens. Alf thankfully ends up surviving in the movie, and even being designated as Earth’s first alien ambassador! But after all those post-series years of suspense and fan speculation, we’ve gotta admit: Finding out the answers felt a little bit underwhelming.

ALF’s original cliffhanger finale isn’t the series’ finest (and definitely not its funniest) episode. But with more than two decades of hindsight to shed perspective on the series today, it at least feels like the open-ended, possibility-promising sendoff that a wild-card, smarty pants alien like Alf deserves. It’s where we like to think the franchise will remain forever: suspended in time… unless, of course, we pick up a fresh new radio signal from Melmac.

Catch all four seasons of ALF, streaming now on Peacock!

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