In Today's Technology-Obsessed World, We Could Learn From 1992's 'Stay Tuned'
Stay Tuned is a 1992 adventure comedy film staring John Ritter, Pam Dawber, Jeffery Jones, and Eugene Levy.
Fun fact: Tim Burton was supposed to direct this movie but left to do Batman Returns. Considering how much I love Batman Returns, I'm kinda glad things worked out that way. Also . . . I can't see John Ritter in a Tim Burton film. Even though Ritter spent the last half of his career doing horror comedies . . . it just wouldn't have worked.
The main lesson of this silly and delightful film seems to be that television is bad for you. Not just a little. Not too much. Television is bad for you, period.
I would have to agree, ironic as it is, considering I review movies and tv shows as a side gig. Still, there's a difference between indulging every now and then in some old movies and rotting my brain with television on a daily basis. I am of the opinion that today's television is crap (thus the reason I write about so many old films and tv shows).
Also, I'm tired of how hypersexualized tv has become. These days, you can't look at a movie or even watch a damn cartoon without being inundated with soft core porn. It's tiresome. Once I realized what entertainment had become, I opted out of television altogether. Now I just stick to my old favorite shows and films. Same with video games and music -- Hell, I won't even consider switching to new toothpaste.
You could say that I'm just getting older. Most people my age balk at new things and stick to whatever it was they enjoyed in their twenties. But to be perfectly honest? I really just think entertainment today is horrible.
That aside, I also hate where society is heading. I hate that everyone is obsessed with their electronic devices and are perfectly willing to go broke trying to buy the newest smartphone, tablet, computer every year. Last year I blew out the cord on my laptop and nearly panicked once I realized my entire career was on the damn thing.
Our dependence on technology is scary.
When I was a kid, I loved Stay Tuned because it was hilarious. Now as an adult, I see it as a cautionary tale.
Roy Knable (John Ritter) is introduced as an open-mouthed couch potato who neglects his family to spend all day and all night in front of the boob tube. He has a classic case of escapism. Ignoring the mess of his life and letting himself drift off into fantasy worlds is easier than facing his problems head-on.
He is clearly set up as the protagonist, someone who is about to go on a journey to take control of his life again.
Helen (Pam Dawber), Roy's neglected wife, tries to reach out to him one night. As he is watching TV, she sits on the coffee table, blocking the screen with her body as she suggests going on a vacation.
Helen wants to go afar away, where there are no electronics, and reconnect spiritually and emotionally with her husband. She begs to know why he has shut himself off from everyone and is living in front of the television everyday.
It is very clear that Roy is lost, depressed, and just doesn't know what to do. Ignoring his problems is not the answer, though he seems determined to do it.
When Roy refuses to open up, Helen grabs his old fencing trophy and smashes the television screen with it. It doesn't seem to matter, as Roy just gets out a small backup television and places it on top of the old one.
While channel surfing, he discovers that his neighbors, the Seidenbaums, have both gone missing and it's being reported on the news.
As if on cue, Mr. Spike (Jeffrey Jones) shows up on Roy's doorstep with an offer.
Mr. Spike has an alarming amount of information about Roy. He knows who his wife is. He knows about his job, his struggles, his crippling depression. He even knows about Roy's fight with Helen that same evening. He pulls out a neat looking television remote (alongside a suspiciously huge contract) and offers Roy a way out.
As if those weren't big enough red flags, Mr. Spike is wearing black and red, has haunting eyes, and can make objects float. Dude is clearly the Devil, but Roy is too confused to really grasp it.
The man is talking so fast that Roy barely has a chance to register what is happening. He is offered a brand new TV on free trial, and before he knows up from down, Mr. Spike has erected a huge satellite in his backyard -- suspiciously enough, at no charge.
To top things off, Mr. Spike drives away cackling evilly at the top of his voice. That Roy doesn't realize something is up is a true testament to his boobery.
That night, Helen comes home and is furious to discover Roy has bought a huge television with what is likely an expensive plan. She decides to leave him and packs a suitcase. This leads to an argument where Helen attacks the satellite dish with a shovel, triggering it to activate and suck both her and Roy inside.
Almost immediately, a baffled Helen and Roy find themselves on a game show. The game begins with a series of questions aimed toward Roy. The questions are about the Knables' crumbling marriage and all the lies Roy has told. As the answers are revealed, it becomes clear that Roy is a terrible husband.
Meanwhile, we are introduced to Crowley (Eugene Levy) and Pierce (Erik King), two ass-kissing subordinates working for Mr. Spike.
In the scene that follows, it becomes clear that Mr. Spike is not Satan himself but is a servant of the Devil, and through his television scam, is trying to drive more souls into Hell.
We also see what has happened to Roy's missing neighbors: Mrs. Seidenbaum is crushed by Godzilla while Mr. Seidenbaum runs in horror. This has been shown to build tension: we now know that people who become trapped in the television can die.
People are essentially killed on television to entertain Mr. Spike's boss, Satan.
Back in TVland, Helen and Roy win the game show thanks to Helen's quick thinking. Having avoided death in a pit of worms, they find themselves being ushered into the ring to participate in a deadly wrestling match.
Their opponents wind up being two scary-ass demon-looking people who growl at them like beasts. Seeing them, Helen and Roy cower in the corner while chiming in hilarious unison, "Oh, my god."
Helen insists that she's not a wrestler -- she's the senior manager of a vitamin company. Roy is hurt that his wife got a promotion and didn't tell him. Helen says she didn't tell Roy because he was so jealous and insecure.
The argument is cut short when the demon wrestlers start attacking. Needless to say, the Knables get their butts handed to them, and Roy especially gets the floor mopped with his face. It isn't until the female demon rips out a chunk of Helen's hair that things take a turn for the better.
A pissed-off Helen saves the day -- again -- by grabbing a microphone stand and beating the living the crap out of the female demon wrestler.
This scene makes it clear that Helen is a strong, capable woman, and that while Roy was initially attracted to such qualities in her, he is also intimidated and feels as if his wife's strength and success makes him less of a man.
In other words, Roy is a product of a patriarchal society where women are expected to be less than men (cowering, helpless, codependent) and never equal to them (fearless, in control, independent).
Roy fell into a state of depression because his wife is strong, confident, and more financially successful than him. His misery lies in the fact that he 1) defines "success" in terms of his career while ignoring how blessed his life actually is and 2) puts pressure on his wife to diminish herself while uplifting him, instead of recognizing her strengths and valuing her as an equal head of the house.
Helen and Roy fall through a conduit and wind up on a channel where they will likely freeze to death. They run into Crowley, who is bitter about having been sent into the TV after making Mr. Spike angry. He tells the Knables that they have only fifteen hours left to survive and escape their contract.
Crowley then steps outside and is attacked by wolves. While he's being mauled to literal pieces, the Knables make a break for the conduit and change channels.
The two of them wind up in a cartoon as a pair of mice. While hiding from a killer robot cat, they have a moment of reconciliation. Roy apologizes for ignoring his wife. Then they're interrupted by the psycho robot cat and escape to another channel.
The Knables wind up separated in a noir detective film. Helen runs into Mr. Seidenbaum, who's been having the time of his life as a crime boss, having gotten from under the thumb of his overbearing wife. He explains to Helen that having his remote control with him means that he can easily avoid death while living the life of his dreams in a fantasy world.
Roy comes for Helen, and not two seconds later, a man shows up with two Tommy guns and shoots up the place, including Murray Seidenbaum. As he's dying, Murray tells Helen and Roy to take his remote and escape, as they still have a chance of getting out of their contract.
Roy finally does something right by gunning down the shooter and heroically diving for Murray's dropped remote.
Helen and Roy wind up on a channel about the French Revolution, and Roy is dressed like a (hideous) woman.
Helen: Roy . . . you have boobs.
Roy: *flinches in horror*
Very good, Roy. That is the only proper response.
Murray's remote is crushed by a passing crowd, but the Knables are still helped by Crowley, who makes a funny comment about Roy's "diagonal boobs."
Crowley tells the Knables that they have four hours left and sends them to hide in a bar while he looks for a conduit. While there, Helen and Roy are sexually harassed by some French officers who refuse to keep their hands to themselves. One grabs Roy's wig and accidentally rips it off, revealing that Roy is the marquis in hiding.
Roy is almost beheaded when his nerdy son, Daryl (David Tom), intervenes, using a machine he built to project his voice into the TV world. The characters think he is God and the beheading is stopped.
The Knables have survived the length of their "free trial" and are supposed to be released, but a determined Mr. Spike realizes that he can hold Helen hostage in order to get Roy's soul. He decides to release Roy from the TV and bring him back to the real world, while trapping Helen.
With the trap now set, Mr. Spike then enters the TV himself, upping the stakes.
As if to underscore the fact that she's being used as bait, Mr. Spike sets Helen up in a cliched damsel-in-distress situation -- Something that is deliberately undignified for a strong female character like her.
She is tied to train tracks by Mr. Spike, who has dressed himself up as a classic mustache-twirly villain.
So Roy reenters the TV and goes through a bunch of hilarious channels, from Star Trek to crash dummy testing to an Easter egg about John Ritter's role as Jack on Three's Company.
Eventually, Roy comes to a channel where the characters fight with swords, except he has no sword. Mr. Spike is armed, however, and as he belittles Roy in a villainous monologue, Roy's kids grab his sword from the wall and toss it in the satellite for him to catch.
Roy catches the sword and hands Mr. Spike his ass. I'm not sure why Mr. Spike thought he could best Roy at fencing. He's supposed to know everything about Roy but hasn't clue that he was a champion fencer.
The fight culminates in Roy snatching Mr. Spike's remote and escaping.
The next scene is probably the most memorable and hilarious from the film.
Roy winds up looking like a banana version of Prince in a Salt-N-Pepa music video. He awkwardly dances his way through while avoiding Mr. Spike and trying to get his hands on the remote.
It's hilarious when one guy innocently presses the mute button, temporarily silencing the film.
Eventually, Salt-N-Pepa (hilariously, grudgingly) hand the remote over to Roy after a good/evil sort of scenario where they bicker back and forth.
Roy then uses the remote to banish Mr. Spike to another channel, where he is tormented by Crowley and the neighbor's dog, who was sucked into the satellite.
So Roy returns to his family having realized that his life is actually great: he has a smart, beautiful, strong wife who loves him, wonderful kids, and what's more, he can choose the job of his dreams, rather than toiling in a job he hates.
With his passion for life renewed, Roy becomes a fencing teacher and finally embraces life, no longer needing to wallow on the couch and escape into TV.
There's a lesson here, and it's a pretty good one: live your life.
You only have one. Don't waste your years hiding in fiction, wallowing in despair. Whatever the f*** you want to do, go out and do it. Stop making excuses and do what makes you happy.
Get off social media, put down the smartphone, close your laptop, and live your damn life.
© 2019 Ash Gray