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What Was Alf? The Adorable Fuzzy Alien Explained

Puppet. Alien. Friend.

By Cassidy Ward
ALF sits at a table and holds a piece of paper.

In 1986, a suburban family’s life was forever changed when a rambunctious wise-cracking alien crashed into their garage. Over the next four seasons (did we mention this is a TV show?) the Tanners welcome ALF (short for Alien Life Form) into their home and family in NBC's hit family sitcom named for the titular alien, now streaming on Peacock.

Bringing ALF to life required the expertise of three puppeteers working in concert. The main performer was Paul Fusco, who also created the character. Fusco controlled ALF’s head and one of his arms. A second puppeteer controlled ALF’s other arm, while a third person worked the eyes and expressions remotely.

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When ALF first arrived at the Tanners’ home, he behaved like an alien who’s been around the block a few times. He enjoyed the occasional cold beer and favored a hankering for a well-cooked housecat. However, as the character’s popularity grew among children, some of those behaviors were softened to avoid setting a bad example for the kids at home. But ALF had a long history in other parts of the universe before arriving in our sleepy part of the cosmos.

Who is ALF, aka the alien Gordon Shumway?

ALF’s real name is Gordon, and he was born on October 28, 1756 (according to the Earthly calendar) to parents Bob and Flow Shumway. He has a younger brother named Curtis and a sister named Augie, and the five of them lived together on the planet Melmac, located in the Andromeda Galaxy. We don’t know much about Melmac but given its non-spherical shape, it must be a relatively low mass planet, without enough internal gravity to pull itself into a ball.

We also know that Melmac has green skies, blue grass (perfectly possible in the right conditions) and orbits a purple star (if those exist, we haven’t found them). We know all that because viewers saw it firsthand in ALF: The Animated Series, also known as ALF on Melmac, which ran concurrently with the live action series for two seasons between ‘87 and ‘89.

The animated series served as a prequel, showcasing Gordon’s (they didn’t call him ALF on Melmac) life on Melmac prior to his departure from and subsequent destruction of the planet. Gordon grew up in Melmac’s East Velcro region, where he attended Melmac High School for 122 years. Later, Gordon and his friends joined the Orbit Guard, Melmac’s only military branch.

Alf is bathed in light in ALF.

War broke out on Melmac in 1980 and five years later the planet was destroyed. Fortunately, Gordon and many other Melmacians were off planet when it happened and survived the devastation. Fleeing Melmac, Gordon encountered an amateur radio signal leading him to Earth and the Tanners’ garage.

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In some ways, ALF is an old man, a grizzled veteran of interstellar war. In other ways, he’s just a kid, freshly graduated from high school, the rare survivor of a planet-destroying war. All things considered, he’s pretty well-balanced.

The rest of the surviving Melmacians purchased a new planet and attempted a rescue mission, but ALF was captured by the Alien Task Force and taken away. But he might make a triumphant return at any time, according to creator Paul Fusco. “We’re just waiting for the right moment to come back,” said Fusco, via Mental Floss. “He’s probably a little more tainted, a little angrier. The world is a different place. It’s gotten a lot crazier since 1990. We might need ALF more than ever.”

To that end, catch all four seasons of ALF, streaming now on Peacock.

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