Stay Tuned

(Welcome to The Quarantine Stream, a new series where the /Film team shares what they’ve been watching while social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic.)

The MovieStay Tuned

Where You Can Stream It: Amazon Prime Video

The Pitch: A man going through a midlife crisis would rather watch TV than pay attention to his wife or kids. With his marriage teetering on the brink of collapse, the guy and his wife get sucked into a powerful new television set and must survive a gauntlet of hellacious versions of then-modern television shows and movies. (Examples: Northern Overexposure, Driving Over Miss Daisy, Three Men and Rosemary’s Baby.)

Why It’s Essential Viewing: This 1992 movie stars John Ritter (Three’s Company), Pam Dawber (Mork & Mindy), and Jeffrey Jones (Ferris Bueller’s Day Off), and was directed by Peter Hyams (Outland, Timecop, Sudden Death). Admittedly, that’s not exactly a “who’s who” of legendary talent, but the premise is what really hooked me here. And the details of the plot are even more ridiculous than I mentioned in the pitch section: this whole operation is put together to please Satan himself, who is never seen in this movie but alluded to as a major TV watcher. Jones plays hell’s top TV executive, who finds poor TV-obsessed schlubs to participate in this torturous viewing scheme, and if the humans survive for 24 hours, they’re released back into the real world.

While the film is incredibly cheesy in its satire of television, I actually had a pretty good time with it. Plus, I found myself thinking about what another filmmaker might do with this hook in 2020, and I came to the conclusion that this is a perfect candidate for a modern remake. It’s not a super well-known movie, it left almost zero cultural footprint (I’d literally never even heard of it before), and it has a genuinely great premise. If studios are going to continue to remake movies – and you bet they’re going to, especially now – these types of films, intriguing but imperfect, are the ones studios should be mining for remake fodder. The only thing that would theoretically hold back a remake are lawyers who might balk at referencing tons of different intellectual property from a myriad number of studios, channels, and networks. (Theoretically, the satire angle should be enough protection, but you know how risk-averse studios can be.)

There are a few cringe-worthy moments in Stay Tuned (including thinking about how Jeffrey Jones would be arrested for possessing child pornography several years after this movie), but overall, I was extremely impressed by just how much movie is crammed into its 88 minute runtime. There are tons of locations and costume changes as the protagonists are whipped through channel after channel (they even appear as cartoon mice for a stretch), and while I was nervous that the couple’s annoying kids would become too much of a factor, they never did. (Gotta love those small victories.) Plus, there are fun supporting performances by Eugene Levy as a slinky, ass-kissing demon underling and a young Erik King (best known for playing Doakes on Dexter) as an ambitious intern looking to revamp the way the hell TV programming is controlled. It’s actually kind of the perfect quarantine movie – not great enough to be anyone’s favorite movie, but a fun little time capsule discovery that’s worth recommending to bored friends and family.

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