“Hey! These floors are dirty as hell, and I’m not gonna take it anymore!” – Stanley Spadowski
“Weird Al” Yankovic – UHF (1989 MGM, 2002 DVD)
I never understood why this brilliant, family friendly and absurd comedy wasn’t a hit. Weird Al never made another movie, such was the box office failure. UHF was simply ahead of its time. Today, viewers familiar with the Family Guy and modern comedy will “get” the tangents and bizarre fantasy sequences. Also, it’s important to remember that this great cast was barely known at the time. Michael Richards was pre-Seinfeld. Fran Drescher had yet to become the Nanny. David Proval was years away from playing Tony Soprano’s nemesis in season two. The only one I’d heard of in 1989 was Billy Barty!
George Newman (Yankovic) is an unemployed dreamer who lands a crummy job managing a UHF TV station on the verge of bankruptcy and permanent closure. He just can’t focus, constantly losing himself in rich, heroic dreamscapes. Weird Al as Indiana Jones…Weird Al as Rambo…Weird Al as Mark Knopfler…Can he use his imagination to help the TV station survive? If he doesn’t, his girlfriend Terri (Victoria Jackson) isn’t likely to stick around for long. Fortunately George’s best friend Bob (David Bowe) is there to help.
The station, U-62, comes with its own assortment of personalities. Pamela (Drescher) is the hard working receptionist dying to make the move to on-camera. Noodles McIntosh (Billy Barty) is a 3’9″ camera man! And then there’s Filo, the “chief engineer” who actually lives at the station. (He’s currently working on his interocitor, a reference from the 1955 science fiction classic This Island Earth. If you’ve seen This Island Earth, remember that reference next time you watch UHF. Get it?)
Unfortunately for George Newman, Channel 8 across town doesn’t want U-62 to succeed. RJ Fletcher (Kevin McCarthy) wants to buy it and turn it into a parking lot. Fletcher, a prick, also cruelly fires his best janitor Stanley Spadowski (Michael Richards) over a misunderstanding. Newman hires Stanley, and even buys him a new mop. His old one, which Fletcher’s goons confiscated, was a birthday gift from his mom.
Newman introduces some new shows to U-62 (Wheel of Fish, Raul’s Wild Kingdom, Secrets of the Universe, Uncle Nutzy’s Clubhouse), but nothing really takes off until Stanley is given his own show, Stanley Spadowski’s Clubhouse. His crazy personality endears him to all ages and his show becomes the hottest in town. RJ Fletcher, however, doesn’t intend to let the station’s success continue. Can George and his friends raise enough money to save the station?
UHF is very special for a few reasons. One is that Weird Al does parody better than anyone. The parodies of Geraldo, Rambo, Ghandi, Conan the Barbarian, and more are still being quoted by fans today. Then there’s Michael Richards. The great thing about Michael Richards, says Al, is that you can just “turn him on and tell him to go crazy for two minutes”, and that seems to be how most of the Stanley Spadowski scenes seem to work. And it’s brilliant. Kids who saw this movie in the 80’s loved Stanley. He’s not only an innocent soul who loves cleanliness, but he’s absolutely whacky, hilarious, lovable and loyal. Third, the movie has a good heart. It celebrates imagination, uniqueness and loyalty, qualities that we all value. And of course it also has those random, rapidly changing sketch comedy bits, not too different from Monty Python and SCTV in style. It’s actually intelligent comedy.
The audio commentary on this DVD is great — even Michael Richards stops by to chat. The deleted scenes are a stream of cut bits, but Weird Al’s intro and commentary makes it hilarious. They weren’t in the movie because they suck, says Al! But if they didn’t put them on the DVD, we’d all be whining that they didn’t include any deleted scenes. He has a point! Some characters and shows (such as “Those Darn Homos”, which seems to be about two men who chase each other around a room trying to spank each other with spatulas) were cut completely from the film, so this is the only place you’d see them. As is usually the case, the movie is better for the cuts made. Additionally there is a short behind the scenes doc, explaining the origin of “Wheel of Fish” and more. Al and the cast aren’t serious in the interviews, which are hilarious:
Q: “Why do they call you Weird Al?”
A: “I don’t know, I guess people are basically cruel. I don’t know why they call me Al.”
There’s a huge photo gallery, standard fare for a DVD, and they’re fun but non-essential. The music video for “UHF” is present (the first time he shaved off his moustache, to play Axl Rose!), an indispensable companion piece. Even the menus are awesome, with Al himself popping up and acting silly. My only real beef about the DVD is this: It’s one of those double sided discs with widescreen on one side and full screen on the other. But the deleted scenes are only on the full screen side, so you have to eject and flip the disc just to watch them, because nobody watches full screen anymore.
Do you wanna drink from the fire hose? Then get UHF. It’s out on Blu-ray, too.