Directed by Jay Levey
July 21, 1989
An unemployed dreamer finds himself in charge of a low rated UHF station just days away from bankruptcy that suddenly takes off when his unusual programming becomes a hit with the public.
Before I begin, the title bares a little explanation because so much in how we get our television has changed. In short back in the olden days when we got our television through antennas. UHF was the frequency used for channels 14 to 83. Now you know. I feel old.
UHF is a cult classic comedy from 1989 starring the one and only “Weird Al” Yankovic as dreamer George Newman who quite by accident comes to manage a low rated UHF station and through his oddball programming turns it into a huge success which draws the ire of Channel 8 owner R.J. Fletcher (Kevin McCarthy). Programs like Wheel of Fish or Raul’s Wild Kingdom or Stanley Spadowski Clubhouse or Bowling for Burgers fill the daily lineup. George’s best friend is Bob (David Bowe-not Bowie) who gets pulled along for the ride because at their last job George’s big mouth got both fired. In George’s world Bob is a voice of reason.
What is a comedy from the 80s involving a hopeless dreamer without him having a long-suffering girlfriend? Victoria Jackson was a bit of a known commodity at the time since she was then on SNL. As George’s girlfriend Teri I do not think her comedic abilities were used as well as they could have been. She did not get to do much of anything other than in a scene where she is at work and accidentally injures a guy when George asks her to dinner over the television.
We had an interesting supporting cast of actors here. Aside from Kevin McCarthy and Victoria Jackson we have Fran Drescher as U62 reporter Pamela Finklestein, Michael Richards as janitor/children’s show host Stanley Spadowski, Anthony Geary of Luke & Laura fame as station technician Philo, Billy Barty as the world’s shortest cameraman Noodles MacIntosh, and Trinidad Silva as Raul Hernandez who hosts Raul’s Wild Kingdom and someone nobody knows how they got on the air.
Kevin McCarthy was a character actor who if you watched anything from the mid-60s into the 80s you probably saw him at least once in your life. If you are fan of classic cinema, you definitely saw him. You may recall him from one of his more notable roles in the original Invasion of the Body Snatchers-a role he somewhat reprised in the 1978 version of the film. McCarthy plays R.J. Fletcher with a bizarre level of over-the-top smarmy villainy.
Gedde Watanabe seemed to be everywhere for a period though his career STILL does not appear to be slacking. You know his face and have most likely seen him in something. He has one good resume that touches on either pop culture or just generally quality stuff. Here he plays Kuni, a karate instructor that lives in the same building as George and Bob. Eventually Kuni hosts the aforementioned Wheel of Fish where contestants spin a wheel with fish on it. The show is a combo of Let’s Make A Deal and The Price Is Right and his character insults people when they make bad choices.
There are a group of others who appear in what amount to cameos. Dr. Demento (credited with bringing “Weird Al” Yankovic to national attention) as himself/Whipped Cream Eater, oddball comedienne Emo Philips cameos as clumsy shop teacher Joe Earley, and The Kipper Kids (one of whom is married to Bette Midler) appear as themselves.
UHF is not so much a comedy film as it is a series of short parodies strung together with a plot. And it is funny. We get such films as Conan the Librarian (“Don’t you know the Dewey Decimal System?”) and Gandhi II (“Give me a steak, medium rare”). There are commercials for a discount funeral service as well as a store called Spatula City. It is just silly fun.
To the best of my knowledge this is “Weird Al” Yankovic’s only starring role in a feature film. He has made other appearances over the years-most notably in The Naked Gun trilogy, but he has not headlined anything that I can think of. It definitely fits the style of humor he has displayed in his music. And that was the point when he and manager Jay Levey (who also directed) wrote the script.
There is just something endearing about this movie. It does not try to be anything highbrow. It just decides to have fun. I know some might not embrace it simply because of the presence of “Weird Al” Yankovic. His musical comedy in my experience has been quite polarizing. You either find him very funny or are you hate him with a passion. But the man has demonstrated staying power and he knows how to create stuff with broad appeal.
Is UHF the greatest comedy? No but it is an entertaining film. I will not call this a watch it so I will give this an if you want-though I really think you should.