The 1980s Comedy Flop Turned Cult Classic That Never Gets Old, Stream Right Now

By Robert Scucci | Published

At the height of “Weird Al” Yankovic’s first wave of popularity, he made the decision to pivot to filmmaking and pen the screenplay for UHF. Known for subverting viewer expectations with his parody music videos, Weird Al made a wholehearted attempt to do the same thing with his feature film debut, and the end result is exactly what you’d expect. The final product is a movie that’s as insane as Weird Al’s hair and one that’s now celebrated as a cult classic despite the lukewarm reception it received upon its release.

Weird Al Underdog Film

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At first glance, UHF is your classic underdog story centered on Weird Al’s George Newman. Following the usual beats, George is a slacker with a penchant for daydreaming that causes him to lose focus and, with that, his many short-lived jobs. Everything changes for George when his uncle Harvey (Stanley Brock) wins ownership of Channel 62 in a poker game and gives George full creative control.

Before Kramer

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On a diet consisting primarily of Twinkies, hot dogs, and Easy Cheese, George immediately gets to work with experimental programming in an attempt to save the UHF network from bankruptcy. After the initial failure of Uncle Nutzy’s Clubhouse – which comes off as a cross between Pee-wee’s Playhouse if it were hosted by Mr. Noodles from Sesame Street while high on bath salts – George is ready to drown his sorrows in a blueberry daiquiri and give up on his dreams. However, when the show becomes an unexpected hit after George hires recently-fired Channel 8 Janitor Stanley Spadowski (Michael Richards) to take his place, Channel 62 becomes the highest-rated channel in the region.

Dueling Local Broadcast Channels

In order to be a true underdog story, UHF needs a villain which comes in the form of Channel 8 CEO RJ Fletcher (Kevin McCarthy). RJ decides to buy the channel from Harvey, who signs over the rights because he owes a considerable amount of money to his bookie. George decides that he’s not going to go out without a fight and continues to offer his newfound audience more of the ridiculous programming that made the network an overnight success in the first place.

Surreal Sketches

Through its predictable narrative construct, UHF sets itself apart from its contemporaries because it’s clearly from the warped mind of Weird Al, who offers what can only be described as multiple levels of visual assault. Not only is the main narrative loaded with slap-stick humor, but the programming found on Channel 62 plays out like a Weird Al music video but with a Hollywood budget. Thanks to Weird Al’s innate instinct to lampoon anything and everything, we bear witness to a solid Indiana Jones parody sequence, as well as a surreal movie trailer suggesting that Mahatma Gandhi is a blockbuster action hero in this universe.

Audiences Love It Today

For its willingness to never take itself seriously, UHF‘s inherent ridiculousness garnered a 61 percent critical score against an audience score of 77 percent on Rotten Tomatoes. The biggest criticism that UHF received upon its release is that it plays out like a number of disjointed skits instead of an entirely cohesive story. But it’s worth noting that there is a satisfying yet predictable resolution to the premise.

A Box Office Flop

Commercially speaking, UHF only earned $6.1 million at the box office against its reported production budget of $5 million. Since UHF failed to be a commercial success, it was not widely distributed for home viewing and quickly went out of print. While out of print, audiences made it clear that there was a demand for the film, and circulating VHS copies ended up selling for over $100 for those who were eager to get their hands on it.

Blockbuster DVD

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By 2002, MGM gave UHF a wide DVD release, and it quickly became a best-seller. These days, UHF is celebrated as a cult classic and a must-see for anybody who is willing to let their guard down and let Weird Al do his thing. And thanks to streaming platforms like Tubi, you can watch UHF for free today.