A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that UHF is a 1989 comedy in which "Weird Al" Yankovic plays an unemployed daydreamer who's given the chance to run a small and struggling local television station. Most of the humor is what you would come to expect if you have even a passing familiarity with Weird Al's music, and while much of the humor has held up in the years since the movie was first released, there are also some instances of stereotyping that are iffy by today's standards. The Asian characters are all martial arts experts who speak in broken English, are always dressed in their black belt fighting gear, and toss beginning martial arts students out the window of their second-floor facility. The host of an animal-themed show is a Latino man with an exaggerated stereotypical accent. Women are referred to as "chicks" and "broads" in one scene. There's frequent slapstick violence: parodies of the action-movie violence of the Rambo or Conan movies, for instance, and a scene premised on the idea of Gandhi being a tough big-city plainclothes cop who throws the criminals into the dumpsters of back alleys. Guns are used by the mob henchmen who take one of the lead characters hostage. One of the characters slices off his thumb with a table saw; exaggerated blood spurts. A poodle is thrown out of the window of an apartment. A parody of daytime talk shows has topics like "Sex with Furniture" and "Lesbian Nazi Hookers."
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What's the story?
In UHF, George Newman ("Weird Al" Yankovic) is a daydreamer whose vivid imagination makes it difficult for him to hold down a job. After he gets fired from a job once again, George's Uncle Harvey gives George the opportunity to be in charge of a television station he has just won in a poker game. The station, Channel 62, is struggling to stay afloat, offering mostly ancient sitcoms as its programming. George tries to turn the channel around with local programming, including a kids' show he hosts, but these changes don't seem to be working. However, when janitor Stanley Spadowski (Michael Richards) takes over the kids' show during an emergency, the kids take to Stanley's bizarre energy and slow-witted pep talks. The ratings for Channel 62 skyrocket to the top, much to the chagrin of RJ Fletcher, the cantankerous millionaire who owns the much bigger station, Channel 8. After learning that Uncle Harvey has accrued some new gambling debts, Fletcher offers to bail him out, on the condition that Harvey sell Fletcher Channel 62. While Fletcher plans on turning Channel 62 into a parking lot, George isn't going to go down that easy, and with the help of Spadowski, reporter Pamela Finklestein (Fran Drescher), and a whole slew of local eccentrics, George stages a telethon in the hopes of raising the $75,000 Harvey owes his creditors in the two days before the deadline.
Is it any good?
Starring the renowned song parodist Weird Al Yankovic, this movie is essentially a Yankovic album in celluloid form. Parodies of movies, TV shows, commercials, food gags, and slapstick humor are in abundance. It isn't highbrow fare by any stretch, but who would want it to be? It's the kind of over-the-top and juvenile humor where you don't want to laugh, but commercials like "Spatula City" and premises like "Conan the Librarian" are so absurd, you laugh in spite of yourself. As an added bonus, the movie features Michael Richards shortly before he would be cast in Seinfeld, appearing to play at times a slower-witted version of Kramer, with similar jerky movements and expressions.
What's interesting about watching UHF years after its release is the deeper message underneath all the silliness. The movie celebrates the eccentric, the unusual, the individual in a world of drab conformity. In some ways, it's a celebration of "geek" years before "geek chic." UHF also champions "the little guy" in the media landscape. Channel 62 is a small, wacky, community-centered television station taking on the bland big-media conglomerate -- obviously a prescient portent of the current media landscape. It's also the celebration of the type of "ground up" low-budget entertainment one is now likely to find on YouTube. Or, if you don't want to be an overly analytical movie reviewer about it, UHF is simply enjoyable for its own sake.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about '80s comedies. How does UHF compare to other comedies you've seen from the decade? What are the ways in which the humor has stood the test of time, and what are the ways in which the humor seems dated?
How does the movie champion and celebrate misfits and underdogs? How does its story of small and independent community-based media taking on giant corporate media have relevance to today?
How does the movie use satire and parody to inspire laughter? How is this similar to what Weird Al does with music?
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