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‘Stay Tuned’ (PG)

By Rita Kempley
Washington Post Staff Writer
August 18, 1992

Channeling takes on new dimensions in the wonderfully silly TV take-off "Stay Tuned," a zippy action spoof on the consequences of being both remote and out of control.

John Ritter is affable in the leading role of a root-bound couch potato who unwittingly signs a pact with a demonic network programmer, Mr. Spike (Jeffrey Jones), and literally goes to Hellvision. Transported there, he and his wife (Pam Dawber) find themselves starring in one deadly program after another. Their one hope of salvation is to survive the Devil's plotting for 24 hours.

The brimstone-stinking CEO of the 666-channel HVTV network, Mr. Spike, follows the couple's exploits from command central, zapping them from the ridiculous (mixed-doubles wrestling) to the sublime (a cartoon mouse show by Chuck Jones). They are barely surviving an attack by RoboCat when their son (David Tom) tunes in and realizes that his parents are trapped on a network that airs such fare as "3 Men and Rosemary's Baby," "thirtysomething to life" and "I Love Lucifer." They have become inner tubers.

As luck would have it, the youngster is an electronics whiz who comes to their aid with a little help from his big sister (Heather McComb). And so a family once torn apart by watching far too much television is saved by working together. It has been a particularly valuable experience for Dad, who had come to resent his wife for her success in the business world. And for Mom, who had come to resent her husband for ignoring her and the kids. Too bad she has to turn into such a clingy sap in the end.

The sexual politics, the plot, the direction -- nothing really matters much when it comes to the silly success of "Stay Tuned," which was penned by a couple of former ad copywriters who maybe felt guilty and saw this goof as a way of unselling their immortal souls. Whether they were hearing the beat of cloven hooves or were just plain sick of dumb sitcoms and crash dummy commercials, Tom Parker and Jim Jennewein have dreamed up some wonderfully silly satires.

Director Peter Hyams's diverse, if not particularly impressive filmography (from "Running Scared" to "Outland") was a plus when it came to coping with the eclectic styles within the movie. The hero is trapped in everything from a '40s film noir to a fusty historical miniseries. Set during the French Revolution, this segment might have been at home on "Monty Python's Flying Circus," what with Ritter's head in the guillotine and Eugene Levy (as the Devil's helper) losing various of his limbs. Sometimes the material's rather too gruesome for a family-oriented film, but as one HVTV intern says to the Devil, "It isn't the blood that bothers me, so much as the lack of subtext."

"Stay Tuned" if you dare.

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