As I sat and had the unfettered awfulness of Pray TV wash over me, my movie-saturated memory banks got caught on a little hitch and I found myself thinking...
Damn there were a lot of really horrible "TV satires" in the late 1970s. It's as if everyone in Hollywood decided, all at once, that the whole medium of television sure was wacky, and therefore ripe for satirization by only the loudest and goofiest filmmakers. Examples of this unkempt and scattershot sub-genre are The Groove Tube (1974), Tunnel Vision (1976), and Americathon (1979).
Pray TV feels like it might have been the direct inspiration for Weird Al Yankovic's UHF (1989), although with one huge difference. UHF was chintzy, sloppy, and really quite funny. Pray TV is, despite the presence of several potentially funny people, one of the broadest and most witless farces I've ever seen. And I see tons of bad comedies.
Directed by the man who would later go on to helm several of Leslie Nielsen's "Bad Golf" videotapes, Pray TV is about a nearly-bankrupt television station that's populated by only the most generic and predictably "goofy" employees. There's the sweet-natured nebbish who pines for the hot blondie, the tall and lanky dork-lady, the slick, black janitor brother...
Yeah, so the station's going under and about to collapse before upper management brings in the one man who can offer some salvation: Marvin Fleece! (The fact that Fleece is a crook combined with the fact that his name is Fleece = comedy.) As played by Dabney Coleman (an actor I've always liked), Marvin's a modern-day huckster of the highest order. Fleece's scheme? To turn the station into KGOD and broadcast exclusively religious programming.
This flimsy concept gives director Rick Friedberg and his screenwriters ample opportunity to trot any old pun, gag, one-liner, and braud vaudevillian schtick that has to do with religion of any kind. Jews, Mormons, Christians, Muslims, and of course Hare Krishnas ... oh, they all get skewered, how daring. If only the material weren't entirely bereft of wit, timing, or quality, then we might actually have something. Plus the schtick is written on a fourth-grade humor level ... but how many fourth-graders out there think pope jokes and jive-talkin' rabbis are drop-dead hilarious? (Hint: Zero.)
Coleman rattles through his performance as if disinterested and on speed-laced cocaine. Over there is Paul Reubens as a howlingly unfunny homosexual stereotype. Over here is the always strange Marcia Wallace in an unending variety of wacky costumes and fake accents. And sprinkled throughout the merciless expanse of Pray TV's death-like 86 minutes are 1,200 potholes of anti-comedy. We're talking the broadest of the broad, here, yuk-fans: Elvis impersonations, polygamy gags, hayseed humor, racial stupidity, etc.
If you're going to satirize religion, don't be a freaking child about it. Pray TV pulls all its punches, delivers only the most obvious and whiskered material, and feels like not much more than a really limp variety show from 1979 that somehow got turned into an actual movie, although the jury's still out on the "actual" part.
Zero laughs. Zero. And let's just say I was "medicinally prepared" for something to giggle at. Pray TV starts out as humorless, graduates into obnoxious, and ends up on just the other side of agony.
Video: Panned & scanned to within an inch of its witless existence, Pray TV is not a pretty picture.
Audio: Dolby Digital 2.0 English, with optional captions.
Extras: Not a one.
The "joke" in the title comes from the fact that cable television used to be called "pay TV," and from the additional fact that "pay" rhymes with "pray." That alone should give you a clear indication of the humor level we're dealing with here.