Saturday, January 29, 2022

Change the Channel

Stay Tuned
Director: Peter Hyams
Cast: John Ritter, Pam Dawber, Jeffrey Jones, Eugene Levy
Released: August 14, 1992

This is a movie I have no recollection of from my childhood, but I've heard it mentioned a few times on some film podcasts I listen to, so when I saw it was on Amazon Prime, decided to check it out. Well, no wonder I don't remember it. It probably made -$300 and was never heard of again. Yes, it is that bad! 

The movie stars John Ritter and Pam Dawber as married couple Roy and Helen Knable (oh, I get it; that's their last name because it rhymes with cable!) Roy is obsessed with watching TV and that seems to be the only thing he does. Okay, it's 1992. What exactly are you watching that you need to have your butt parked in front of the TV all the time? Murphy Brown? Cheers? LA Law? Seinfeld? Quantum Leap? Unsolved Mysteries? The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air? The Golden Girls? Perfect Strangers? Home Improvement? Family Matters? Okay, so there were shows to watch (BTW, he doesn't even watch any of these; he just seems to watch sports and old black and white movies all the time), but it's not like this is circa 2013 and he's watching Game of Thrones or Breaking Bad or anything on Netflix. 

His nerdy pre-teen son introduces his dad to the audience and basically tells us that his dad watches TV all day, with maybe a few hours of sleep. He gives us the statistic that the average American watches 7.5 hours a day which seems like a LOT to me! Back in the '90s, I probably watched 2-3 hours every night, depending on the day of the week and if I watched the one hour drama that came on at 10/9 central (like ER). Haha, remember when shows like Caroline in the City and The Single Guy would get such high ratings because they were on between Friends and Seinfeld and people would just leave their TVs on after Friends and probably go do something while CitC was on, then return to watch Seinfeld? Anyway, back to my point, I might watch an hour or and hour and a half after school to unwind, so my daily average of TV back in the day was about four hours a day. Roy's son (as you can tell, I didn't bother remembering his name) tells us his dad watches three times as much as the average American! WTF? What is he watching in 1992 all day? Like I said, the only good shows came on in prime time...there's nothing else on during the rest of the day! No wonder his wife is so pissed off at him and wants to leave him! I'd leave his sorry ass too! 

There's a bit of a hint that Roy may be depressed and buries his depression in TV watching because his wife is the breadwinner of the family as she works as an advertising executive who recently got a promotion (which she doesn't even tell her husband about until later in the movie and even then it just sort of accidentally slips out). Roy actually has a job too. He sells plumping supplies. 

Helen wants to go away with Roy for the weekend to the mountains so they can rekindle their romance and not be distracted by anything like their kids, phones, or the TV. (Especially the TV!)  As she's trying to suggest this idea, he's watching basketball and tells her, "You go ahead, I"ll be there in 4 minutes and 16 seconds."  

Helen gets so fed up that he's not going to change, she throws a statue at the TV and breaks the screen. I have to say, for someone who loves their TV so much, I was surprised at how antiquated their television was. Antiquated even for 1992. It was one of those big boxy TVs with knobs on the side. It was also quite small; you'd think he would have one of those big screen TVs. I guess they want the new TV (spoiler alert!) he will eventually get be the more new and flashy TV that he watches. However, his wife breaking the TV doesn't deter Roy; he just gets an even smaller TV and places it on top of the broken one. This one also has knobs and appears to be one of those old-fashioned TVs where you have to get up and turn the knob to change the channel, but I was surprised that he actually had a remote for it. 

That very same night, a salesman named Spike (Jeffrey Jones) comes to his door and tells Roy he's been "personally selected to receive a most irresistible offer." He shows him a chirping TV remote with flashing lights and tells him he can "escape from all [his] failures and woes, at the touch of [his] thumb." He tells Roy he will have "666 channels of heart-pounding, skull-blasting entertainment" on his "brand new 44-inch, 900-line resolution, three way expanded-matrix Dolby stereo TV." Honestly, I had no idea of half the things he was saying. He gives him a contract to sign and then they'll be in business. Roy says he better not (oh, in case you're wondering, Helen is randomly out for the night), but when Spike tells him there's a free trial he perks right up. Hell, I can't blame him. The word "free" or "on sale" always perks me up too. 

And just like that a huge satellite dish (so gaudy) is installed in his backyard and Roy is told he'll have to adjust it to "fine tune reception."

Spike drives away cackling and we see a terrible effect of the ground opening up and swallowing his car whole. When Helen comes back home, she is not happy to see the new TV. Roy turns it on and there's a promo for a show called Three Men and Rosemary's Baby. As you may have already guessed, Roy has made a deal with the Devil. Well, technically Spike isn't the devil, but works for him, I guess? This movie can't use real TV shows, but I guess they can spoof on ones that already exist. When they watch TV, they see shows like Beverly Hills 90666, I Love Lucifer, or Fresh Prince of Darkness. We get a whole slew of these and none of them are that clever. Roy tells his wife, "The salesman said we'd get a lot of shows you can't get on regular TV." Well, why the hell would you want to get this TV, then? Can you still get the regular shows you usually watch? Why would I want to get a TV that doesn't air any of my favorite shows? That makes absolutely no sense. 

Roy goes outside to the huge satellite dish to improve the reception and moments later, Helen comes outside with a suitcase to tell him she's leaving him. As they're arguing, the dish moves towards them and sucks them into a vortex that sends them to TV Hell (quite literally). They find themselves on a game show called You Can't Win! While they're there, we get some backstory on how this whole thing works. The suckers who fall for this scam are brought to TV Hell and there is a scoreboard of all the people who are "playing" and, as we learn,  the goal is to "kill them before they reach the end", the end being 24 hours. If the Knables are able to survive for that long, they will get to go home. We are told that sometimes people go quickly and sometimes it takes awhile, but they never make it out alive, although there was one man who did manage not to get killed and Spike says that won't happen again. 

Eugene Levy plays someone who works for Spike, and besides John Ritter, he is the only name I was familiar with from this movie. I know Pam Dawber is from Mork and Mindy (though I had to look that up), but I never watched that show, so she wasn't familiar to me. 

You know, this isn't too unlike Squid Game. We have a bunch of people who are brought to a place where the odds of survival are very slim. Of course, here, we're just following Roy and Helen and never meet any other people who have been brought here (with an exception of one, which we'll get to later). Squid Game also has way higher stakes because you know people are gonna die and in that way, it's more exciting and intriguing and makes you sit on the edge of your seat. In this movie, I never doubted for one second that either Roy or Helen would die. (Spoiler: they don't). Actually, the more I think of it, this is nothing like Squid Game. So don't quote me on that. 

So Roy and Helen avoid being thrown into a pit of eels when they answer the final question correctly and they win "a trip of a lifetime" and are sent through a static screen that sends them to a wrestling match where they have to compete against another couple who are bigger and stronger than they are. Thanks to sheer dumb luck, they win the match and the floor opens up (another static screen special effect) and they are dropped into Northern Overexposure, "the story of a young doctor from New York who comes to Alaska, complains about everything, and freezes to death." My mom watched Northern Exposure back in the day (she loves any show, reality or scripted, that takes place in Alaska) and I was usually in the room with her when it was on, so I guess I used to watch it too, though I don't really remember anything about it. All I remember was there main doctor guy, an old guy, a woman with short dark hair, and a young blonde woman. I think there might have been an old lady, too? And maybe a moose? Maybe the moose was just in the opening credits and that's what I'm thinking of. 

Eugene Levy is there since Spike sent him there for pissing him off. (Being who he is, Spike has the power to send anyone to any channel with his special remote). He is digging through the snow and sees the static that will send them to the next channel. Wolves are out to get them and they all hide in a ice fishing shack that's located on a sheet of ice. Levy explains they just need to stay alive for another fifteen hours (wow, have they already been there for nine hours?) and then they will be home. When the wolves start attacking again and get Levy, he tells them he's already dead so he'll be fine. For some reason I can't remember, a fire has started in the shed and Helen and Roy can't escape it because the wolves are outside, ready to pounce. (Those must be some seriously hungry wolves! Where's Liam Neeson when you need him?) They walk the shack across the ice to the static hole and escape from the wolves, though Roy gets stuck in the hole but makes it just in time as the wolves come near him. 

Meanwhile, back at their house, their nerdy son and bratty teenage daughter find a note from their parents saying they went away, so they have no idea what's going on. The boy goes outside to ride his bike, but as he's pedaling, the satellite dish turns towards him and starts to suck him and the bike back and he's having a tough time moving forward. He is able to hold onto a pillar on the porch and the dish sucks his bike away which he will later see on a show called Meet the Mansons, starring a young "Chuck". 

Roy and Helen find themselves as cartoon mice who have to escape from a robot cat who is trying to kill them. This is probably the most clever part of the movie, but that being said, it goes on for way too long. Their son sees this on TV and he doesn't recognize their voices, but it's when Helen literally says her full name and address is when he realizes it's his parents. He gets his sister to show her, but she just scoffs at him and I can't say I blame her.  Animated mouse Roy is able to escape and he becomes a guest on Duane's Underworld with "Duane" and "Garf" as zombies and if this doesn't scream 1992, I don't know what does. This whole movie screams "1992", honestly. They are trying to "help" Roy find his wife, but he escapes by running upstairs and escapes into a black and white noir film where his wife is as well. This time when the kids see the movie on TV, the sister believes his brother since she actually sees her mother (and not a cartoon lady mice) on the TV and now she realizes her parents are trapped in the TV. 

So, back at the beginning of the movie, we see Roy and Helen's neighbors (an elderly couple) get caught up in this nonsense and they both end up in TV Hell. The wife is killed (by Godzilla, no less), but the husband is still hanging about and they obtain a remote from him which will take them to any channel if they just click it. By this time, I'm so bored and fed up with the movie, that I really don't care. I guess this movie bombed at the box office and I can certainly understand why. They click the remote and find themselves in a miniseries about the French Revolution and it looks booooring! Roy is disguised as a woman, but is captured and sent to the guillotine. Don't ask me how, but the kids have somehow connected some device to the satellite dish so the boy can communicate to the TV world and he acts as the voice of God and demands that they let go of Roy, which they do. 

They have made it to 24 hours, but only Roy is sent home because the contract was only for him. Spike sends Helen to a Western where she's tied up to a railroad and Roy comes back to try to save her. He ends up going through a lot of shows when he changes the channel on his remote to try to get away from Spike including Star Trek, a Salt 'n Peppa music video on "HTV" (that's Hell Television, for you), a hockey game, Driving Over Miss Daisy,  and Three's Company (never got the Hell-ified name) where the two girls (NOT Suzanne Sommers or the other one) ask simultaneously, "Where have you been?" While I get that it's a clever joke, it doesn't make any sense since at this point, that show had been off the air for almost a decade so why would Chrissy and the other one be asking where Jack Tripper has been? I mean, in the grand scheme of things, it really doesn't matter. 

Roy ends up in a fencing movie with Spike and Roy reveals he was the co-captain of his junior college fencing team. Once he defeats Spike, he "cancels" him with the remote and transfers himself to Helen's channel and is able to save them both and return home by simply pushing the "off" button on the remote. Everything goes back to normal and the boy reveals to the audience that the only show his dad watches now is 60 Minutes and he now teaches fencing.

This movie has an interesting premise, but it is so boring! Change the channel on this one! 

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