ALF’s Bath That Went Down the Memory Hole Drain

From the fall of 1986 until the spring of 1990, you could see aliens — if you watched primetime television in the United States. Over those years, NBC’s lineup featured a show named ALF, featuring the furry, large-eared creature above. The plot of the show is basic and fun: one day, a spaceship crash landed in the garage of the Tanner family, and the Tanners discovered the creature above inside. The U.S. has an anti-alien agency in operation and the Tanners, not wanting to see their accidental visitor tormented, invite him into their family and hide him from the authorities. They dub him ALF — that’s short for “Alien Life Form” — and for the next four television seasons, a bunch of sitcom things happens. Right now, it’s streaming on Peacock with many episodes also available on YouTube, if you’re looking for something to watch.

But there’s one thing you won’t see — because one of the segments was censored after it aired.

There are a total of 99 episodes of ALF, including three one-hour specials (including commercials), one per each of the first three seasons. The first season’s hourlong special is titled “Try to Remember,” and it aired on February 8, 1987. It starts with ALF, donning a shower cap, and walking through the family’s living room. He comes across Kate and Lynn Tanner — the mother and teenage daughter — on the couch, and announces that “if anybody wants me, I’ll be in the whirling hot tub.” As ALF leaves for the bathroom, it registers to the Tanners that they don’t have a whirling hot tub — and that ALF was holding an electric mixer. Using a plugged-in electronic device in a bathtub is very, very dangerous, but before the Tanners can react, things go south. ALF, his hair frazzled and his head smoking exits the bathroom — and has lost his memory. instead believing he is an insurance agent named Wayne Schlagel, as seen here on YouTube. The Tanners spend the rest of the episode trying to get ALF to remember who he truly is.

Producers of the show thought they had a great gag on their hands but also recognized that, by taking a bath with an electric mixer, ALF was modeling very dangerous behavior. So they had ALF address these concerns head-on. At the end of the original broadcast, ALF speaks directly to the camera, asking everyone to “listen up” because “I want to make sure you understand one thing: water and electricity don’t mix.” And despite the fact that the show elicited a laugh about his use of electrical appliances in a bathtub, ALF explains that, to the contrary, “there’s nothing funny about electrical appliances in the bathtub.” You can watch the clip here and judge for yourself how effective it is.

If you think that’s not enough to prevent accidents, you weren’t alone. After the show aired, NBC was bombarded with complaints from parents and, according to show co-creator Paul Fusco in a 2007 interview, the complaints weren’t unwarranted: at least one child tried to replicate the whirlpool in his own home. Per Fusco, the child wasn’t harmed, but the network all but forced him to reshoot the opening scene for syndication. So he did, as seen in the full episode, here. Instead of holding an electric mixer, ALF uses a regular hand mixer (seen here) — but he still fails to avoid injury. In the reshot version, ALF slips in the tub, hits his head, and again, loses his memory.

The censored version of the episode is the only one you’ll find on streaming services (including YouTube), on DVDs, or if you happen to catch the episode aired as a TV rerun. No electric mixer, no PSA, and nothing else that would suggest to children that bathing with an electronic device is something they should try. But for the magic of the Internet, the original version of the episode would likely have been lost forever. Just don’t show it to any little kids.

Bonus fact: In 2017, Charlesetta Williams, a 75-year-old woman from Texas, was probably saved by her bathtub. That January, a tornado struck her town, and Williams, for reasons unclear, decided to seek shelter in her tub. The idea didn’t quite work, but it turned out okay: as KSLA (a local TV station) reported, “the tornado lifted the tub out of the home and deposited it in the woods with [Williams] still in the tub.” She was unharmed.

From the Archives: Why Our Fingers Wrinkle When Wet: Some bathtub science.