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SEE WHAT YOU MISSED: Stay Tuned (Warner Brothers, 1992 Rated PG)

November 3, 2008

One of my friends will tell you that it can be hell working in TV.  Some people believe that the quality of programming has gone in that direction with the advent of “reality” programming.  In STAY TUNED, when you go to that awful place, you wind up being the newest star on “Hellvision”:  the Underworld’s TV Network which caters to one viewer in particular, and I’m not talking about the president of the Nielsen Company, either.

How do you wind up there?  Simple:  all you need to do is be so dissatisfied with your life that you use the TV as an escape.  Once that happens, Satan’s representative, and the demon in charge of programming, Spike (Jeffrey Jones) shows up at your house to offer you the free-trial use of a monster satellite dish that can receive 600 and 66 channels of programming on a big screen setup with Dolby surround.  And it’s all controlled by a simple remote.  All you have to do is sign the contract (cue evil organ music).  One other thing, when the reception goes on the fritz (and it WILL very quickly), you have to go out to the dish and adjust it manually.  And THAT’s when they’ve got you.  You see, the dish seems to KNOW when someone’s gotten to close.  It adjusts itself, extends the probe, and ZAP, you’re on Hellvision.

That’s where the Knables come in.  Roy (the late great John Ritter) is an unsuccessful plumbing salesman, who dreams of great adventure, and lives out his unfulfilled fantasies by watching TV.  His wife, Helen (Pam Dawber), on the other hand is a very successful executive for a vitamin company.  Helen loves Roy, but she’s afraid she’s losing him to the tube, and when Spike shows up with his system, Helen gets ready to walk out on him.

Roy, on the other hand, is totally absorbed in his new TV.  He doesn’t even seem the least bit suspicious that every show he turns to, and every commercial he’s seeing has a real mean streak to it.  The titles and the products seem familiar, but there’s just something odd about them.  Sure enough, the reception goes, just as Helen is walking out.  She finds Roy working on the dish, when ZAP!  They’re on Hellvision.

Their first stop is an appearance on YOU CAN’T WIN.  Hellvision’s top rated daytime game show in which couples learn the awful truth about each other, by answering multiple choice questions.  Winning the game means they don’t get killed and are sent to their next program.  You see, the idea behind Hellvision programming is to kill the souls that enter the system within 24 hours.  If the souls survive, they get sent back to reality, a little bit wiser for the wear.  Soon, Roy and Helen find themselves in a wrestling match with gorgons, wind up on Hell’s version of NORTHERN EXPOSURE, and in my favorite segment, as mice in a Chuck Jones cartoon battling the evil Robocat.  This segment features some of Jones’ funniest work in animation.

Meanwhile, Spike is getting worried.  Nobody has survived the system as long as the Knables.  It’s also not helping Spike that his assistant played by Eugene Levy has become an unexpected ally to the Knables.  Well, Spike DID send his assistant into the field as a punishment for an ill-timed joke.  Now the assistant wants revenge.  It’s also not helping Spike that back in the real world, the Knable kids, Darryl and Diane have figured out what’s happened, and are working to rescue their parents.  it’s actually Darryl who narrates the story, and does so very well.

The Knables do hit redemtion point, but there’s a hitch.  Only Roy signed the contract, therefore, only Roy gets to go back.  Spike, meanwhile, has tied Helen to a cart full of dynamite on the middle of a railroad track (the legendary 3:10 to Yuma is supposed to pass by-I can’t tell you how often I missed that joke until watching this movie last night).  Roy is taunted into returning to the system to find and rescue Helen.  This time, no matter where Roy goes, Spike goes too.  This turns into a chase around the dial with a visual joke involving Roy on the set of a VERY familiar looking sitcom, with the theme music playing in the background.

Well, as is often the case with these twists on the Faust story, Roy does learn his lesson, reconnects with Helen and his kids, and winds up going into a new line of work, in which he’s very successful.

What I like about this movie are the parodies.  They hit the mark more than they miss.  I also like the fact that legendary voiceover announcers Ernie Anderson (from ABC) and Don Pardo offer their services.  Then there’s Bruce Broughton’s background score.  The music styles match the programming and commercials perfectly, especially in the Chuck Jones segment.

All I can say is that if I’m ever offered a system that features 600 and 66 channels, I’m gonna think twice.  As it is, i don’t even watch all of the 199 channels I get NOW.

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