|Written by Abbie Bernstein|
|Tuesday, 23 May 2000|
‘Stay Tuned’ displays some good parody notions that simply don’t hang together very well. Screenwriters Tom S. Parker & Jim Jennewein, working from a story they cooked up with Richard Siegel, have come up with a framework that theoretically justifies hooking together sendups of a wide variety of TV shows from the ‘80s and early ‘90s. The problem lies in the execution.
Roy Knable (John Ritter) is a plumbing-supply salesman who has become completely addicted to TV. His fed-up wife Helen (Pam Dawber) is on the verge of leaving him due to his benign neglect of her and their two pubescent kids. Then Roy unknowingly makes a deal with an emissary (Jeffrey Jones) of Satan, who delivers a satellite dish to the Knabel household that promptly zaps Roy and Helen into Hell. More precisely, they’re guests in Hellvision, 666 channels of programming that’s hard to survive as a character or a contestant.
Some of the bits are clever, like the animated titles in Chapter 2, which are a nice harbinger of the action to come. Chapter 16’s ‘Wayne’s World’ takeoff ‘Duane’s Underworld’ has two undead headbangers in pretty accurate Wayne and Garth mode. There’s also a funny vacation-meets-Godzilla gag in Chapter 9 and an extended Tom and Jerry routine in Chapter 15, supervised by animation legend Chuck Jones, that looks and feels like the real thing. However, a lot of the segments drag on for two long, and the connecting material, with the Knabel children trying to rescue their folks from the other side of the TV, appears to have wandered over from ‘The Wonderful World of Disney.’ Director Peter Hyams doesn’t make the jokes unbearably schticky, but neither he nor the writers seem to either know when to stop or how to give the arbitrary rules of the Hell TV universe a sense of true comedic jeopardy.
If you’ve got to have a pair of actors playing people zipping through everything the tube has to offer, Ritter and Dawber are gamely up to the task. Ritter, who proved once and for all that he can act in ‘Sling Blade,’ is certainly up to the sitcom-esque demands of Roy. (The film even does a throwaway ‘Three’s Company’ gag, quickly enough to be funny.)
Soundwise, there’s a big effects sequence in Chapter 7, as the Knabels are sucked into the satellite dish, that combines wind effects, deliberate electronic distortion and bombastic music. The mix is pretty decent, though the result is a bit artificial-sounding. Chapter 32 finds Roy plonked down into the midst of a Salt-N-Pepa video, "Start Me Up," that sounds as punchy as a CD cut. The DVD is helpfully broken into 36 chapters – a goodly number for a film that only runs 89 minutes – and comes with a "making of" featurette.
‘Stay Tuned’ does have some genuine laughs. However, it often fails to make the most of what should be, on consideration, a viable comedic premise.