The most interesting thing by far about listening to “Weird Al” Yankovic’s commentary on the DVD of “UHF” is not his humor, although that is at sharp (or dull to some people) as it normally is. No, the insights about death, fish and the super-low budget used to create the fine piece of satire is what makes the commentary worthwhile.

Paul Wong
Courtesy of MGM
Red snapper, very tasty.

“UHF” is a comedy about the TV industry. It’s not intended to inspire change like any of Michael Moore’s comedies; rather, it is simply a vehicle for Weird Al to create some goofy skits and play some amusing songs.

Yankovic, who also co-wrote the script, is George Newman. George is a dreamer who one day inherits control of a UHF (ultra high frequency) TV station in the basement of the ratings. With a little imagination, and the help of some friends, Newman turns his Channel 62 into the No. 1 station in town.

Victoria Jackson (“Saturday Night Live”) portrays George’s girlfriend, Teri, while Michael Richards (“Seinfeld”) is janitor-turned-TV host Stanley Spadowski. Kids turn one of the dimwitted but sincere Stanley’s shows into the top rated program in its time slot. In more clever casting, David Proval (Richie Aprile on “The Sopranos”) is one of the henchmen trying to destroy what Newman and friends have worked so hard to create at their UHF station.

Shows such as “Ghandi II” (“no more Mr. passive resistance!”), Conan the Librarian and the classic “Wheel of Fish” are but a few of the bizarre ideas that fuel the movie.

The movie, when it debuted in 1989, initially did poorly, making just over $6 million. As Yankovic notes, it is “the 2,253rd highest grossing film of all time.” Debuting opposite “Batman,” “Lethal Weapon 2” and “Dead Poet’s Society,” among many other quality films, “UHF” was out of the theaters in two weeks and “Driving Miss Daisy” took home the Best Picture Oscar (Yankovic wryly calls that the saddest moment of his life). Yet it has remained, as Al mentions at least four times, a “cult classic,” albeit not with the strength of “Rocky Horror Picture Show.”

At the time, critics panned it. Yankovic reads some of the more harsh reviews over the closing credits, and notes that when Rex Reed had to review “UHF” and a Yahoo Serious film in the same week, he nearly lost all of his hair. Roger Ebert similarly panned the film for its lack of intelligence. Still, it continues to make people laugh to this day.

The extras on the one-disc DVD are hit-or-miss. The brief behind the scenes vignette is amusing, but far too short to be informative. The production stills and promo materials do not deserve a mention. The music video for the song, “UHF,” parodies, among other artists: George Michael, Robert Palmer and ZZ Top. This leaves the deleted scenes (placed oddly enough on the reverse side of the disk) and the commentary by Yancovic and director/Ghandi 2 portrayer Jay Levey.

“Do you know why these scenes were deleted?” Yankovic asks, rhetorically, “Because they suck!” And suck they do. Scenes involving the decapitation of a hand and more from the TV studios were wisely eliminated. Sadly, Al failed to keep the potential breakout hit, “Those darn homos.” I wonder why.

While he (Levey has hardly a word to say) and a few guests appearing for the commentary (not to ruin the surprise, but Michael Richards shows up and they call up Victoria Jackson in an amusing bit) mocks the deleted scenes and a few sight gags from the movie that just went on too long, its obvious how much fun Yankovic had filming in Tulsa. They loved him so much that they kept up a “Spatula City” billboard for an entire summer, much to the confusion of passers-by, and were given fish from the famous “Wheel of Fish” segment. Jackson tells of her pleasure and the “honor” of working with Yankovic as George’s girlfriend.

On a limited budget, they couldn’t afford to hire Buddy Ebsen for the “Beverly Hillbillies” – part of George’s dreams. Yet their fans came unexpectedly. Dire Straits’ Mark Knoppfler insisted on playing guitar on one song, and so he did (the music video combining the “Beverly Hillbillies” theme song and Dire Straits’ “Money for Nothing” was actually well-liked even by critics who disliked the movie). Dr. Demento made a cameo.

Tragedy also struck the shooting when Trinidad Silva (“Raul,” the unusual pet guy) was killed by a drunk driver during shooting. This added gravity was on the set as they finished filming.

Overall, there is no real reason for non-parody fans to purchase this DVD. This isn’t essential for all collectors. But for shear laughs and amusing anecdotes about filming, it’s well worth the price for “Weird Al” fans.

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