Forgotten Film Gems: Stay Tuned

Stay Tuned is a mix between The Running Man and Kentucky Fried Movie. It’s a bizarre little film that presents us with the idea that Satan is not only sadistic, but he likes his sadism served up as primetime television.

I saw this movie once as a kid, and my parents never let me see it again. For good reasons, I’m sure. Now that I’m grown up, I find Stay Tuned to be strangely endearing. It’s whacky and uneven, but that’s the point.

It’s not a perfect film; I’m not even sure if it qualifies as a good film. But I really like it, for some perverse reason, and I invite you to join me as we discover this forgotten film gem, Stay Tuned. Don’t touch that dial!

What Stay Tuned Is About

Stay Tuned is about a couch potato and his wife who get sucked into a satellite, and the TV shows they find themselves in are trying to kill them at every turn. First, they’re in a game show where they’ll be killed if they answer a question incorrectly. Then, they’re in a deadly tag-team wrestling match. And it only gets crazier from there. If they can survive for 24 hours, they’ll be set free. But almost no one has ever done that.

One of the many funny satirical bits in Stay Tuned is Three Men and Rosemary's Baby.This movie is constantly tossing in throwaway gags like promos for Three Men and Rosemary’s Baby, The Exorcisist (an aerobics/demonic show), and Different Strokes (about how people suffer different complications when having a stroke). Some of the jokes are in bad taste, but that’s satire for you.

A surprising number of jokes hit the mark dead on. There’s an extended cartoon sequence where the husband and wife are transformed into animated mice and they’re chased by a robot cat designed to exterminate them. That entire sequence is absolutely hilarious, and the way they finally resolve the problem is beyond perfect. They try to think like rational adults who have watched cartoons for years, and their solution to a common cartoon problem is both simple and satisfying.

Hyam-ing It Up

Roy and his wife struggle to survive as cartoon mice and in other bizarre situations.At first, I was shocked when I learned that Peter Hyams directed this film. But now that I think about it, it makes perfect sense. Stay Tuned has all of his signature moves: A ticking clock, a dark smoky room where lots of meetings are held, the main character who hates his job, and a husband and wife having marital issues.

Plus, it just has his specific look. Hyams’ films look different than films by any other director. People look slightly stretched or distrorted in some way. It’s hard to describe, but if you watch a few of his films in a row, like say 2010, Outland, and Stay Tuned, you’ll notice it. Also, he has a distinct pattern in his color palette, unpolished special effects, and the way he edits and shoots things. He acts as the Director of Photography on all of his films, so he has a lot of control over their look and feel.

A Couple of Scene Stealers

Eugene Levy and Jeffrey Jones steal every scene they’re in. I mainly remember Eugene Levy as the annoying guy trying to out Daryl Hannah as a mermaid in Splash. And everyone knows Jeffrey Jones as the principal in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.

They play a couple of slimy executives in charge of the programming at Hell TV, Satan’s own personal television studio. Levy is trying to undermine Jones at every turn, and he has quite a few memorable moments where he loses appendages to frostbite during a winter storm, passes himself off as a hapless peasant during the French Revolution, and finally gets his sweet revenge in the end.

Jeffrey Jones enjoys every moment of being evil as he drives over Miss Daisy.Jones is the man with a plan who is always in control. He’s giddily evil in a way that you don’t usually see. He enjoys inflicting pain, and yet he doesn’t come across as grotesque. He just loves his job more than anything else in the world. You get the sense that he’s the one having the most fun, whether he’s engaging in a life-or-death sword duel, driving over Miss Daisy, or showing off his dance moves in a horribly dated ‘90s music video. He can act circles around everyone else.

An Underappreciated Film

Critics mostly disliked this movie and it bombed at the box office back in 1992. But don’t let that turn you away. There’s a lot to love about this film. I like its commentary on our media-driven culture more than the first Hunger Games film. It captures the horrific nature of extreme programming in a disarming way. Sometimes literally.

The child actors may be a little lackluster, the characters themselves aren’t particularly complex, and the film doesn’t always take advantage of its satirical possibilities to the fullest. But overall it is a wonderfully black comedy with just enough compelling elements to hold together its bizarre premise for 90 minutes and keep our interest piqued the whole way through.

This is the Deja Reviewer bidding you… stay tuned.

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About Robert Lockard, the Deja Reviewer

Robert Lockard has been a lover of writing since he was very young. He studied public relations in college, graduating with a Bachelor’s degree in 2006. His skills and knowledge have helped him to become a sought-after copywriter in the business world. He has written blogs, articles, and Web content on subjects such as real estate, online marketing and inventory management. His talent for making even boring topics interesting to read about has come in handy. But what he really loves to write about is movies. His favorite movies include: Fiddler on the Roof, Superman: The Movie, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, Back to the Future, Beauty and the Beast, The Fugitive, The Incredibles, and The Dark Knight. Check out his website: Deja Reviewer. Robert lives in Utah with his wife and four children. He loves running, biking, reading, and watching movies with his family.
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7 Responses to Forgotten Film Gems: Stay Tuned

  1. I just watched the trailer. I remember seeing it as a kid. Might have to check it out


  2. Peter Hyams directed the forgotten film “Timecop” with Van Damme, Mia Sara e Ron Silver. Thia movie had the caractheristics that you pointed in this text.

    OFF TOPIC: Did you watch “Guardians of the Galaxy”? The movie was wrote and directed by James Gunn who made the screenplays of the “Scooby Doo” movies. I think the both movies could be in a mashup.


    • I like Timecop. It’s an action movie that has a lot of fun with its premise while also offering some unique twists here and there. I’ve enjoyed every Peter Hyams movie I’ve seen. He reminds me of John Carpenter in his style.

      I have seen Guardians of the Galaxy, and I absolutely love it. To be honest, I’ve never seen either of the Scooby Doo movies. That’s an interesting thought, though. I’m still working on the movie matchup between Chinatown and Who Framed Roger Rabbit you suggested not long ago. I plan on publishing that one soon after I finish my next cinematic chiasmus next week. Then I’ll have to watch those Scooby Doo movies to see about their similarities to Guardians of the Galaxy.

      Thank you very much. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I’m glad that you liked my suggestion. Thank you very much!


  4. Pingback: Although critics and audiences shunned Peter Hyams’ Stay Tuned in 1992, it’s actually a really clever satire on the entertainment industry | On Reddit

  5. Pingback: 10 Great Westerns That Aren’t Set in the Old West | Deja Reviewer

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