The Austin Chronicle

Stay Tuned

Rated PG, 88 min. Directed by Peter Hyams. Starring John Ritter, Pam Dawber, Jeffrey Jones, Eugene Levy.

REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Aug. 21, 1992

No matter how hard you try, it's always difficult not to second-guess films you haven't seen yet, and judging solely from the promotional trailers that have been running for a while, Stay Tuned looked to me as uninspired as its title. Thankfully, in this case, my negative expectations were unfounded (well, sort of). Network it ain't, but this lopsided new comedy of terrors from Peter Hyams isn't nearly as awful as you might think. Television casualties John Ritter and Pam Dawber are the Knables, an average Seattle couple who find their marriage becoming increasingly rocky due to Ritter's incessant TV viewing -- he's the kind of guy to whom making love with his wife runs a distant second to watching the Knicks. When a mysterious black-clad stranger named Spike (Jones) shows up one night and offers Knable a chance to own a new super-satellite TV system (free trial offer, natch), the couple find themselves sucked into television hell -- literally. Satan, it seems, has developed an ingenious new way to garner souls: he forces them to run a gauntlet through various caustic television shows, and if they survive 24 hours within The Vast Wasteland, they're free to go. Consequently, the Knables bounce from channel to channel, finding themselves alternately in old westerns, French Revolution period pieces, sadistic game shows, and in the film's centerpiece, a surprisingly well-done cat-and-mouse cartoon show. Stay Tuned is peppered throughout with twisted little commercials for various shows like “Meet the Mansons,” “David Dukes of Hazard,” “Three Men and Rosemary's Baby,” etc. As a take on contemporary television culture, Stay Tuned has a lot to say, but much of it is presented in such a broad comedic format that it passes by unnoticed. This is a comedy, after all; politics aside, though, it never really rises above the level of mediocrity, and never actually descends to the level of television itself.

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