First off, I love when the studio opening clips, in this case the little astronomy clip from Orion, lead into total farces. Like, you know those clips were designed primarily to set the tone for blockbusters and Oscar winners, but in this case the same theme is the set up for “Weird” Al Yankovic pretending to be Indiana Jones and using his whip to sever a man’s arm at the shoulder.
So anyway, I hadn’t seen UHF in years. I remember rolling in the aisles at the parodies in UHF when I was about 13. But it’s evolved into more than that. The levels of nostalgia here are actually kind of complex. I mean, there’s the movie itself, there’s “Weird” Al himself. Michael Richards gives a downright ass-kicking performance, both pre-Seinfeld and pre-“nigger!”-ing up his career. There’s the fact that the stuff they parody was contemporary at the time and is 20 years old now. Obviously making fun/rejoicing in the glory of Rambo and 80s Action is the lifeblood of the site, but there’s some ineffable timewarped, unending nostalgia loop about watching “Weird” Al make fun of 80s action in a film from the 80s.
Hopefully I’m not alone here, but I also have an odd fondness for broadcasting in itself–the smaller scale the better. I can’t say I was ever a UHF viewer, but I do have a special place in my heart for truly independent broadcasts. I used to love Channel 5 here in LA, when the late, local news was hosted by the departed Hal Fishman, with the departed Stu Nahan on sports. After that it was reruns of “The Honeymooners.” On weekends, they’d run syndicated sitcoms that were botched late-term abortions, like “Charles In Charge.” But as the networks gave up on the weekend ratings valleys completely, what else where you going to watch? So your local unaffiliated station would pay $400 for the rights to an episode of “Small Wonder” and turn a profit.
(By the way, I googled for “Small Wonder” image and what came back was the cover for the season 1 DVD. Am I nuts, or is this pose blatantly catering to pedophiles? Like when you photograph a female from behind, looking back at you over her shoulder, that is sexual 100% of the time, right? Maybe it’s alright because she’s a robot. Perhaps V.I.C.I. could have been a greater servant to humanity as a safe reservoir for the lust of pedos, rather than a robo-duster.)
We still have local news, of course, but it is governed by the data-mining and focus group research-driven directives sent down from the five corporations who own it all. Channel five is now part of one of those atrocious “My WUPN” pseudo-networks. Gone are they days when you could have a TV station that consisted of no more than people working under one roof, trying to produce a good newscast and choosing “The Honeymooners” over “I love Lucy.” There was something personal about that, allowing for a feeling of connectedness. I’d even extend it to include earlier cable TV. Like, remember when MTV would occasionally let “Weird” Al take over for a day of “Al TV?” It made watching the channel feel like you were taking in a real creative effort. Like some real people had some ideas that they thought you might enjoy and have fun with, and their own tastes entered into what they decided to show, whereas today’s MTV content is entirely the product of profit maximizing algorithms and nothing else. And don’t even get me started on radio and the days of KNAC, an honest to god metal station here in LA. The days where “what radio station do you like?” meant something other than “which of the top 40 stations (though they only actually play like 20 different songs) do you prefer based on programming that differs by 5%, due to slight variations in approaches to marketing and their robot DJs?”
Now on top of all this, Weird Al is making fun of the lame, old sitcoms that local stations used to air, specifically in his Beverly Hillabillies bit, which was making fun of a Dire Straights video that was contemporary at the time, but now is fun because of nostalgia value and…
But on its own terms, this is a film about how how you and that handful of entertaining jerkoffs you know could really take off if you were only given the opportunity. Al is a loser with a series of loser jobs and thinks all of the people who fire him for failing at mundane tasks will one day regret it, because he is “a man with imagination” and this will eventually be revealed to the world in grand fashion. Just as you believe that it’s only a matter of time until you are given the opportunity or a lucky break and become rich and famous. That is certainly the delusion amongst all people involved with our site. The contrivances, fabrications and celebs of most reality TV are one step behind this 21 year old movie. Scott Baio is fucking boring. You’d do better to find the most entertaining guys you know, and let them run wild and free. Because as the bible says, “let them run wild and free.”
Would it actually work? I need only point to the Jackass/Big Brother family tree, which consisted of nothing more than a bunch of second tier skaters and skateboarding writers being given carte blanche. Before that, Tom Green was pretty much the same thing. And I really think UHF was kind of an early bridge between these two expressions, each of which hinged upon representations of a truly personal product. On the one hand, Hal Fischman saying “stay tuned for the ‘Honeymooners.’” And on the other, Pontius graduating from day laborer to trillionaire model fucker because he will let a cobra bite him on the dick.
So that’s basically what happens. Al’s rich uncle, on a whim, gives him an unknown, nearly bankrupt UHF station to run. He finds a bunch of friends, freaks and entertaining weirdos and puts them on the air, and eventually his station becomes more popular than the pablum offered by the big local network affiliate.
Now some the humor is hit or miss and a lot of it is really dependent on your tastes and how much you’ve smoked or drank prior to watching the movie. Like, I can imagine someone not finding Conan The Librarian inherently funny. Well, I could, up until the point that Conan hoists a nerdy man who asked where he can find a book about astronomy and bellows, “don’t you know the Dewey decimal system!?”
But then there are other points in the film that are just inarguably funny. Like when Al and his sidekick watch the first episode from one of their future stars, who neither remember hiring. It’s a nature show hosted from inside the apartment of a man who believes that poodles can be trained to fly, with the following results:
And the dialogue is pretty good as well:
Al: What’s your name?
Al: Billy what?
[Bill spits in Weird Al’s face]
UHF is almost shockingly good. I think I might even have been avoiding a repeat viewing for years for fear of having a favorite from my early teens exposed as being terrible. Instead, it has aged like a woman from Mork’s planet and I’ve rediscovered what might be one of the 50 or so best comedies of all time. And keep in mind, my top 50 would be cluttered with a lot of black and white movies that you probably wouldn’t be interested in. I’m like one of those guys who thinks Otto Graham is one of the top three quarterbacks of all time. So if you like the movie as much as I do, it will probably crack your top 20.