T.V. is the medium that can do multitudes, elevate the masses, expand minds, and provide an artistic outlet for millions. It can also be incredibly addictive, lulling people into a vegetative state, apathetic to most of life’s concerns barring the next box set. This is not a new phenomenon, with similar sentiments being thrown at the device since its invention. In 1992, a satirical take on the hellish landscape was made a little more literal than one would imagine, in Stay Tuned.
Roy Knable is a guy who likes his T.V., envious of his wife’s high-flying job, while in turn she is annoyed at how much T.V. is sucking up his life, and breaks it in a fit of passion. When a devilish stranger offers a high-tech remote, a gateway to 666 channels of entertainment, and a new 44-inch T.V. to boot. Roy signs up with nary a hesitation. When through a turn of events, the bickering couple get sucked in the T.V., and soon realise they may need to work together for their marriage and their lives. Now trapped in a warped reality of the 1990s media landscape, to survive the Knables must play along with the ghoulish games for 24 hours, in an attempt to give ratings that audiences will die for.
From the offset, marrying the world of then-modern media to the landscape of hell is a rich concept. Stay Tuned remains fully committed to the theme, we have many depictions of shows new and old, some a couple of seconds long gags, to full scene-long parodies. Down below, we have a control centre, committed to monitoring the ratings from the trapped couple. It is partially analogous to the similar room from the meta-horror film, Cabin in the Wood sans the dad from Six Feet Under swearing at demon-vanquishing kids still, it manages to convey a similar feeling of ratings pressure. The cast certainly helps Stay Tuned, with the late great John Ritter is certainly proficient working alongside Mindy herself Pam Dawber, making for a fun It-Takes-Two-esque couple. Eugene Levy is a fine offering much-needed exposition of the rules of the situation and is here to help too. Even on the screen, with some good ol’ fashioned undead wrestling complete with Lou Albano on the mic, help round off this film with some notable star power.
The skits that emanate from the special T.V. are nothing if not a silly hoot. Cute puns, and macabre sights, much akin to a Devil’s Dictionary version of the T.V. Guide, not to say that they aren’t worth the effort, but It’s the larger style-homages that firmly stick in the mind. Including the well-animated Tex-Avery-inspired sketch, and a send-up of Northern Exposure, dubbed Northern Overexposure. If that isn’t enough, then a full-on undead version of Wayne’s World may be just the ticket. When the film fully embraces the French Revolution, it feels like the viewer has been driven to some strange, new places, but when it returns to the Wild West for a climactic showdown.
Stay Tuned is a chuckle-worthy reflection of the media landscape of the late 80s early 90s, full of witty observations and goofy gags, and a hefty dose of heart that makes it worthy of prime-time consideration. Be that it may, this hellish farce, may miss out on the modern absurdities of the streaming age, if you catch it, Stay Tuned might prevent you from channel surfing for an hour or so.
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