VHYes: Channel Surfing, by Alexander Miller
When I was about eight or nine years old, I was channel surfing and much to my surprise I saw “comic store Craig” (he earned this nickname because he owned a local comic shop; clever, right?) sitting on a stool in front of a blue screen. It was a promotional thing he’d do to plug his shop. He’d go over what’s new and what’s hip and I distinctly remember him pulling out Weezer’s blue album and saying something along the lines of, “Well, this is a new album by the band Weezer and it seems like they’re going to be the next big thing.” I couldn’t figure out what was more curious. That I knew someone on television or that the guy on screen was our local “comic book guy” talking about Weezer. Unfortunately, he’d appear on television once again except it was the evening news but that’s another story.
Anyone growing up with broadcast television in the pre-millennium era has probably experienced countless surreal moments like this. Some are funny, others scary. Many are both, while most of them are downright weird. That’s the guiding tone of VHYes, a movie that could be best described as part found-footage parody, part mockumentary that could also serve as a covert tribute to the genre. Oh, and it’s consistently hilarious throughout its concise running time of 72 minutes.
VHYes plays off a loose framing device where a young kid, Ralph, gets a video camera for a Christmas present and, like any precocious youngster, spends every waking second documenting his various antics with his best pal and recording late-night television programs right from the TV. This gives way to a slew of satirical sketches that are committed to a sense of period authenticity as well as absurdist humor. Spoofing nightly newscasts, infomercials, documentary/dramatic reenactment programs (a la Unsolved Mysteries), sitcom fodder, softcore porn, instructional painting shows, even the scrolling blue screened TV Guide channel. While the initial scattershot delivery feels like “gags-for-gags’-sake,” VHYes reveals a narrative that is a comical take on a coming of age/horror story that never forgets its unrestrained sense of humor.
The compact runtime feels like a mixed-media mashup recalling the contemporary sensibilities of Adult Swim shorts (“Too Many Cooks” especially), YouTube parodies and the sketch comedy of The State. While writer-director team Jack Henry Robbins and Nunzio Randazzo’s filmographies mainly consist of shorts (whose footage is repurposed here in VHYes), they have the comedic sensibilities to match or, in many cases, exceed any current online persona. They also strike a brilliant working partnership with Kerri Kenney-Silver and Thomas Lennon, who are the most recognizable faces in the feature due to their time on influential shows The State and Reno 911!
Even the social commentaries play with a tongue-in-cheek vibe. One talk show mockup introduces us to a commentator who plays like a Marshall McLuhan-esque cipher (or, if we’re going deeper into the referential lexicon, Brian O’Blivion from Videodrome) who forecasts the dissociative effects that video recording would have on an entire generation, calling this affliction “tape narcissism.”
Some more standout segments include a Bob Ross parody featuring Kenney-Silver as a monotone but slightly unhinged painter with a penchant for snowy mountaintops, alien motherships and erotic dunking sessions with Dennis Rodman; a ghost hunter reenactment show where a sorority house is burned down after a “magic trick” goes wrong; some environmentally conscious softcore entertainment; and a commercial for flexibility enhancing ointment that’s “300% effective.”
There’s a sincerity to the silliness. VHYes could have pulled this off without developing the directors’ vision; funny for the funny’s sake is fine. But Robbins and Randazzo invest their ambitions into a wall-breaking exercise of genre deconstruction that’s bold and playful. VHYes is set in the 80s but this is not another nostalgic wank-fest. Rather, it’s an originally conceived mixed-media parody that satirizes our limited capacity and short attention spans while embracing the creativity that’s precipitated in their wake.