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ALF ( Paul Fusco ) follows an amateur radio signal to Earth and crash-lands into the garage of the Tanners. The Tanners are a suburban middle class family in Los Angeles, California. The family consists of social worker Willie ( Max Wright ), his wife Kate ( Anne Schedeen ), their teenage daughter Lynn ( Andrea Elson ), younger son Brian ( Benji Gregory ), and their cat Lucky.

Unsure what to do, the Tanners take ALF into their home and hide him from the Alien Task Force (a part of the U.S. military) and their nosy neighbors Trevor and Raquel Ochmonek ( John LaMotta and Liz Sheridan ), until he can repair his spacecraft. He generally hides in the kitchen. It is eventually revealed that ALF's home planet, Melmac , exploded because of a catastrophe involving nuclear war. In episode four of season one ALF tries to convince the president of the USA to stop the nuclear program as ALF is afraid that Earth might suffer a doom similar to Melmac's. ALF was off the planet because he was part of the Melmac Orbit Guard. ALF (a.k.a. Gordon Shumway) is homeless, but he isn't the last survivor of his species. He becomes a permanent member of the family, although his culture shock , survivor guilt , general boredom, despair, and loneliness frequently cause difficulty for the Tanners.

While most of the science fiction of ALF was played for comedic value, there were a few references to actual topics in space exploration, for example ALF's using a radio signal as a beacon in the pilot episode. In the episode "Weird Science", ALF told Brian, who was building a model of the solar system for his science project, that there were two planets beyond Pluto called "Dave" and "Alvin", which gets Brian in trouble at school. However, after Willie makes a call to an astronomical organization, he explains to Brian and ALF that "Dave" could have been the planetoid Chiron , or "Object Kowal", after its discoverer.

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