Stay Tuned (1992)

I’ve watched a lot of television over the years. When I was a kid, my summer schedule was just as likely to revolve around Gilligan’s Island reruns as it was whatever the latest Saturday morning cartoon hit happened to be. F-Troop, The X-Files, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Cheers, The Simpsons, The Munsters, Get Smart, The Andy Griffith Show, Law & Order, the small screen had so much to offer that kept me entertained. It’s a wonder I got anything done at all. Yet despite this, I still managed to find the time for books, movies, video games, friends, sports, and that other favorite, doing absolutely nothing at all. Man, kids have it so great. Now that I’m an adult, I feel like I actually have to accomplish stuff.

So I now write about the movies I watched. Small accomplishments.

Roy Knable is a couch-potato and the last fan of the Seattle Supersonics during the rough period at the late 1980s and early 1990s before George Karl became head coach. That’s basketball, yo. Anyway, Roy’s life is generally crap, he refuses to admit he feels emasculated by the success of his wife, Helen, and his kids, Darryl and Diane, are typical kids who see their parents’ marriage collapsing and don’t really know what to do. Helen destroys Roy’s TV and tries to leave him, when suddenly a TV executive named Spike shows up with a brand new satellite system. What Roy doesn’t know is that Spike’s company happens to have one viewer, Satan, who likes sadistic shows of all types where people get killed as well as Salt-N-Pepa music videos. Yes, Satan is a demon of taste.

What Roy also doesn’t know is that the new satellite system has the ability to suck people inside shows, so their souls are now on the line for eternal damnation unless they survive for 24 hours. Roy and Helen end up getting sucked in, and Darryl and Diane eventually realize that their parents are stuck in TV land. With the help of one undead comedian, Crowley, who really doesn’t like his boss, Roy finally summons up his manhood and leaves his couch-potato ways behind to fend off Spike and the soul-destroying TV, save his wife and their marriage, and reunite everyone as a family. All this, and he manages to avoid stepping in the various plot holes, of which there are many.

But that’s unimportant. Look, it’s a cheesy forgotten comedy from the early 1990s; if we worried about plot holes, we’d have nothing to watch besides Schindler’s List. This is more about laughing at rapid parodies, satire on TV watching culture and soulless corporate leadership, and appreciating a few moments where things become truly great. And there are a couple of moments in this movie that are truly great. The first is a throwback joke where Roy, played by John Ritter, discovers himself on the set of Three’s Company and screams in horror. While Ritter had experienced some success in bit parts in television and films, Three’s Company was what broke him into the mainstream, so the reference to his career is a chef’s kiss of delight.

The other moment of greatness? There is a Tom & Jerry-esque cartoon segment done as a parody of Looney Tunes halfway through the movie animated under the watchful eye of Chuck Jones. Jones was one of the major writers, producers, and directors of Warner Bros. flagship cartoons. Even if you somehow have never seen any of his work (and that would require living in a small dirt cave under a rock that is covered by an even bigger rock), you’ve seen his influence, both in animation and live action. To say millions of people across the spectrum of entertainment have been influenced by him is possibly understating his legacy, as he created some of the greatest cartoons featuring Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Wile E. Coyote, and so on. But he didn’t stop there, making various animated shorts and films based on classic literature and children’s books (including the annually shown classic How the Grinch Stole Christmas), educational programs, and even the Alvin and the Chipmunks first Christmas special, not to mention animated segments for multiple films. Stay Tuned features just one of many of those segments, but it’s a piece directly meant to focus on his Looney Tunes output, and the love shines through even if the rest of the movie can’t hold it up.

We get other entertaining moments, like Duane’s Underworld on Saturday Night Dead, a parody of the Wayne’s World sketch series from Saturday Night Live. We see John Ritter dressed like Clint Eastwood. Lou Albano serves as referee in a bad wrestling match. We have parody title sequences and fake commercials. Unfortunately, it’s not all fun and games. The movie suffers, like numerous others of its era such as Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and Beetlejuice, from starring Jeffrey Jones in the role of Spike, the evil television executive. Jones pleaded no contest to solicitation and creation of child pornography with a 14-year-old in the early 2000s, and while there was never any evidence of physical contact or other known examples of possible pedophilia, his role as a sex offender does taint quite a few highly regarded movies. While I realize this doesn’t rise to the same level as Victor Salva sexually assaulting a minor while filming Clownhouse, and Jones did not have any scenes with kids while making Stay Tuned, it still makes the skin crawl to think about.

It’s also just not a memorable film as a whole. While metacinema regarding television and film such as Popcorn and TerrorVision were springing up around the time, they often lacked the creative oomph to get noticed until Wes Craven made New Nightmare and then Scream. Critics and audiences at the time gave a lukewarm reception to the film at best, and beyond the monument to Chuck Jones and the love letter to classic television programming, there is little reason to seek Stay Tuned over other, better regarded comedies of the time…

Unless you’ve seen those. In which case, man, have I got a six minute cartoon segment with a 90 minute wrapper for you.

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