UHF (1989)
April 16, 2018 6:39 PM - Subscribe

An unemployed visionary becomes the manager of a local public station. The station becomes a success, with all sorts of hilarious sight gags and wacky humor.

NYTimes: The most amusing sequences in Al (Weird Al) Yankovic's disjointed farce about a UHF channel that beats out its network-affiliated rivals with wacky programming in the mode of ''Pee-wee's Playhouse'' are its spoofs of television ads, children's shows and music-videos.

WaPo: "UHF" is not a uniformly funny experience, unless you have to wear a bib and tend to laugh at anything, such as sudden gusts of wind. Yankovic, co-writing with manager Jay Levey (who also directed), goes for gag after gag. Some hit, some miss. You laugh, you cry.

There's something for everyone here (as long as everyone thought going to a "Weird Al" Yankovic movie was a good idea in the first place), including Channel 62's new game show, "Wheel of Fish," or a regular feature called "Raul's Wild Kingdom," in which host Raul, among other things, shakes up an ant farm ("Hey look, they're really mad now!") and teaches poodles to "fly" from his apartment window. But the funniest thing in the movie, most will agree, is performer Michael Richards (who, you may remember, was the funniest thing on the ill-fated comedy TV series "Fridays"). Nuttier (and more innocently endearing) than Pee-Wee Herman, he's an out-there janitor-naif called Stanley Spadowski who takes over a kiddie show and becomes big money with goofy, spasmodic charm. As momentarily amusing as "Weird Al's" sendups can be, Richards's shtick is lastingly funnier. "UHF" is more likely to be remembered as his debut.

LATimes: Yet there's something fatally wrong here. Why would someone who keeps losing himself in dream-parodies of Spielberg and Stallone movies come up with shows like "Druids on Parade" or "Name That Stain"?

The problem with "UHF" (MPAA-rated PG-13) is that everything in it is a parody. The only logic for anything that happens is that there's some new thing to make fun of--mostly inanely. It's not much of a movie. But, hey, give these daffy, goofy guys a break. Where would the film industry be without them?

Roger Ebert: Yankovic is so happy to have a laugh - any laugh - that he forgets that discipline is a key element in comedy. When anything goes, nothing is funny; the great movie comedies work by establishing the rules in their universes and then testing them. In the case of "UHF," for example, Yankovic should have decided if he wanted to string together a series of TV parodies or make a movie about the rescue of a fly-by-night TV station.

He has decided to do both, and so the movie alternates uneasily between the story line, which involves the fate of the station, and a lot of self-contained parodies that do not share the same reality as the rest of the film.

AV Club: UHF was trimmed by an hour from its rough cut, and the DVD features a hilariously self-deprecating guide to the deleted scenes, with Yankovic running through 20 minutes of jokes that were deleted “because they suck.” The cult of UHF is explained better by YouTube clips and trivia pages than the movie on the whole: Fans can lift the standalone sketches that work, obsess over marginalia like the names of all the fake TV shows (Bestiality Today, The Flying Pope, The Lice Is Right), and discard all the sops to narrative convention like a festering carcass. Beyond a general affection for Yankovic and nostalgia for all things ’80s, the revival of UHF owes much to our current ability to skip chapters and pull tracks on records and DVDs, without much respect for the grand design. When George daydreams a full-length parody video of Dire Straits’ “Money For Nothing,” its connection to the movie is tenuous even by the standards of a movie devoted to tenuously connected parodies. But today, it’s easily extracted.

A vaudeville for the TV-addled mind, UHF pokes fun at the medium’s less-dignified moments, like Geraldo Rivera’s The Mysteries Of Al Capone’s Vaults fiasco (here, rendered as a look into Al Capone’s glove compartment) or The Morton Downey Jr. Show (here, having a talk-show host berate Satan as a “pinhead”), but it doesn’t engage in any Network-like scolding. On the contrary, it’s a celebration of those unruly outposts where anything can happen, and the dedicated coach potatoes who click their way down these odd little tributaries. UHF’s best moments feel like one of George’s daydreams, the sort of TV one might hallucinate while half-asleep at 2 in the morning. That’s how Wild Kingdom becomes a show where the host whips a turtle onto the ceiling and declares it “nature’s suction cup,” or Romper Room is commandeered by an idiot savant whose best friend is a mop. Yankovic picks up on all the flotsam and jetsam that the airwaves deposit on the shore, and turns UHF into his own giant salvage yard—half trash, half treasure.


Wheel of Fish. Rambo. Stanley's Clubhouse. Raul's Wild Kingdom. Town Talk. Conan the Librarian.

We got it all on UHF: An oral history of “Weird Al” Yankovic’s cult classic

An Oral History of Weird Al Yankovic's "UHF"

A Very Stupid Ranking Of The Imaginary TV Shows From ‘UHF’ On Its 25th Anniversary
posted by MoonOrb (27 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Emo is out on tour with Al right now, as it happens.
posted by Chrysostom at 6:53 PM on April 16, 2018 [4 favorites]

“Red snapper, very tasty” comes up every time I see it on the menu. Every. Single. Time.
posted by neilbert at 8:26 PM on April 16, 2018 [6 favorites]

Well I guess I’ll be buying a DVD of UHF.
posted by bq at 8:58 PM on April 16, 2018

“Red snapper, very tasty” comes up every time I see it on the menu.

I still do that too, every time.
posted by mordax at 9:09 PM on April 16, 2018 [1 favorite]

Well, it appears that my work on this planet is complete. I must now return to my homeworld on the planet Zarquon.
posted by kyrademon at 1:34 AM on April 17, 2018 [7 favorites]

I still maintain that "Spatula City" can be a sound business model.
posted by AlonzoMosleyFBI at 4:22 AM on April 17, 2018 [4 favorites]


Now that my daughter is prime youth library age, that one's starting to come out a lot.
posted by stevis23 at 4:23 AM on April 17, 2018

Even though it's kind of racist, the "SUPPLIES!" gag cracks me up every fucking time.
posted by tobascodagama at 8:13 AM on April 17, 2018 [8 favorites]

I caught this in the theater in the brief time it was playing. A Weird Al fan friend and I waited anxiously for weeks and were not disappointed. Because of the weirdness with Orion falling apart the movie wasn't available on VHS for a while. I bugged a guy at the local On Cue record and movie store in about 1994 long enough that he finally found an import VHS. It was only $30 or so (which was still a lot for me at the time) and it came in a very plan box. It was a tiny amount of tape in SLP speed but I didn't care. I wore that tape out over the next few years.

If you get a chance, listen to the audio commentary on the DVD. It's really great. The DVD easter eggs are also really well done. Even though Al self-deprecatingly snarks his way through them you can tell he cares about the movie and the people he made it with.

Every gag in this movie is great, but the one that still gets me every time I watch it is the Rambo scene - specifically the POW cage that has huge gaps and a simple gate latch, but of course still the small slit to look through in the door.
posted by Clinging to the Wreckage at 8:49 AM on April 17, 2018 [3 favorites]

Honey, where's the spatula?

I find reason to reference Spatula City enough that my wife - who has never seen and never will see UHF - knows the lines.
posted by nubs at 8:50 AM on April 17, 2018 [2 favorites]

God I love this movie so much. I own it on DVD and used to watch it with my son quite a bit. We also watched it with a bunch of his friends during a birthday party. They all loved it.

I saw Al play in Boston recently. The show was on the same night as the Oscars so Al said he was going to give us updates during the night. One of the updates was that "UHF has retroactively won best picture" after which he went right into the UHF theme song. It was perfect.

posted by bondcliff at 9:02 AM on April 17, 2018 [5 favorites]

We do "what's in the box?!?" all the time, and "red snapper..." as well. I have wondered if the racial insensitivity of the movie would spoil it for me now. I think we had only watched it a few times on VHS a long time ago, but so many of the lines have stuck with Big Purr and me.
posted by Hermeowne Grangepurr at 9:31 AM on April 17, 2018

My kids really like to say "Not many people know this, but the turtle is nature's suction cup" and "Today, we are going to teach poodles how to fly." There was an NPR piece on Gandhi a while back (anniversary of his death or somesuch) and from the back seat I hear "But he also knows how to party!"
I have good kids.
posted by Clinging to the Wreckage at 11:06 AM on April 17, 2018 [12 favorites]

I only saw Rambo II a few years back, having seen UHF dozens of times growing up. I assumed Al's Rambo was something over the top, like Ghandi II, but the UHF version is closer to a shot-for-shot remake of the rescue scene (with some obvious jokes thrown in) than I had thought. Yell, something blows up, repeat.

If Al had included the scene where Rambo shoots at computers I would have accused him of going too far.
posted by Gary at 11:45 AM on April 17, 2018 [5 favorites]

If you enjoy UHF, you may also enjoy Stay Tuned from around the same era which also revolves around parody programming, this time in Hell's satellite cable system.
posted by Servo5678 at 11:49 AM on April 17, 2018 [2 favorites]

"Boy is my face red!"

"Nothing! Absolutely nothing! STUPID! You're so STU-PIIIIIIIIIIID!"

"Spatula- spatula- Spatula City!!"

"My work here is done."

Man, I loved this movie growing up.

It's kind of wonderful that Weird Al kind of reinvented himself. Can't tell if its purely makeup/botox, but he looks pretty damned good these days.
posted by porpoise at 11:50 AM on April 17, 2018 [1 favorite]

Can't tell if its purely makeup/botox, but he looks pretty damned good these days.

He is a vegetarian who doesn't drink, smoke, or do drugs. I imagine most of that is just clean living. Although he doesn't put his foot behind his head during interviews anymore, which could be the first sign that he's actually aging.
posted by Gary at 1:55 PM on April 17, 2018 [9 favorites]

Emo is out on tour with Al right now, as it happens.

And if you have a chance at all to go see it, GO. Even if you've been to one of Al's concerts before. This one is a complete 180 from his usual tours, and it is spectacular.
posted by radwolf76 at 9:22 AM on April 18, 2018 [1 favorite]

I had the good fortune to get to go see this screened with live commentary interspersed by Al and Emo, hosted by Tig Notaro. No, it was not as awesome as you might think - it was better.

I'm not sure I'd concur that Weird Al has in any way reinvented himself. He seems largely the same as he has ever been, though perhaps he doesn't put on a manic persona for performances/appearances as often as he used to. But he's clearly always been a pretty careful and thoughtful person; he could legally parody anything he wants but insists on only doing stuff with approval. When a seeming mix-up resulted in Coolio not being happy that Gangster's Paradise was done he was clearly distraught about it. He could have shrugged it off, publicly defended it as an honest mistake, or any number of other things. But every time I've seen it referenced he's been apologetic and never pointed an iota at blame at anyone else.

They took audience questions for quite a bit at the event linked above and he was clearly a guy who not only felt lucky to have had the career he has, he clearly worked groddamned hard and smart to have it. Not that you'd much know the second part from what he said; most of that related to thanking other people who were a part of his success along the way. He failed to take the bait when an audience question offered the setup to be less than nice about what a wingnut Victoria Jackson has turned into in the time since. Emo Phillips made a fairly tame joke about her life journey while Al said nothing.

Nothing to do with UHF, but if you haven't heard his Hamilton pastiche it's a must-listen to hear how technically talented the man is. I think he does some of the bits even faster than Daveed Diggs.
posted by phearlez at 11:13 AM on April 18, 2018 [6 favorites]

Chanting "Wheeeeeel Of Fiiiiiiiish!" will never not be funny IMHO.
posted by Faintdreams at 3:02 PM on April 18, 2018 [4 favorites]

One of the nice things about living in Tulsa was regularly seeing Spatula City. The weird thing is that I don't really like UHF as a movie. However, as a concept I love it as I do many of the individual gags in the film. I think part of it is that some parts fit the overall low rent feel very well, but others don't as much and that makes it too inconsistent for me to really want to sit down and watch the whole thing at once.

The other nice thing about living in Tulsa was that on the rare occasion Weird Al ended up in town, his show was full of added UHF references and extra bits reminiscent of its style that people elsewhere didn't get to see.
posted by wierdo at 9:59 PM on April 18, 2018 [1 favorite]

Well, dammit -- now I have to do a double feature of this and Amazon Women on the Moon.
posted by DrAstroZoom at 7:38 AM on April 20, 2018

I have always had a weird sense of humor, well, weird as told to me by others. Growing up UHF was one of those godsend movies that felt like it was made for me to have a moment to really appreciate jokes and silliness that many might find "weird." There are just too many scenes and jokes in the movie to address, so I'll leave it at that.
posted by Atreides at 9:23 AM on April 20, 2018 [4 favorites]

Saw a turtle at a wildlife demonstration today. Refrained from asking the obvious question about it.
posted by asperity at 11:38 AM on April 24, 2018

This movie was, strangely, the last gasp of the Needham Cinema, a 3-screen local theater in the town where I grew up. It had been a low-rent second-run theater for years, but for some reason, had UHF in its first run. All the weird, strange, "freaks" (as we called ourselves) in my high school went to see it multiple times, hooting and hollering at the screen, throwing popcorn, being shitty teens, as shitty teens should be while watching the inexplicable appearance of an inexplicable movie at the tail end of the small theater era. I'm not sure if UHF was literally the last movie ever screened there, but it could have been - the theater was closed within weeks of its opening - but I really hope it was.
posted by Rock Steady at 12:25 PM on April 24, 2018 [1 favorite]

I just rewatched this with my kid. It's still funny, even if there is some dated stuff that would never fly today.

The number one thing that is dated though is the ending: the idea that if a conservative shitbag was caught saying the quiet part out loud, they'd be run out of town on a rail.

We've had that for four years now. Shame never took hold. Comeuppance never comes.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 7:03 AM on October 10, 2020 [1 favorite]

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