Pray TV

Director: Rick Friedberg
Dabney Coleman, Paul Cooper, Marcia Wallace

Thanks in part to this web site, I am managed to achieve considerable success in my life. Although I try to remain as humble as possible so that I don't rub anyone the wrong way (with the exception of the idiots in the Canadian government who fund one rotten Canadian film after another), I realize that much of my success comes from being above average when it comes to intelligence. Though I like to consider myself a pretty smart guy, I have to admit that there are some things that confound me, things that I am unable to find an answer to no matter how much research or brainstorming that I do. For example, ever since I was a child, I have been mystified by the process of dreaming. Why so often when we sleep do we have visions of ourselves in pretty crazy situations? The only possible explanation that I have been able to theorize is that it's a way to encourage us during our hours when awake to think of things in different ways, to encourage us to try new actions so we might find a way to improve things. Another thing that I sometimes think of and wonder about is what it's like far from planet Earth. Is there life on different planets? If so, what would it look or act like? And how is it possible for the universe to stretch on and on far past our galaxy with seemingly no end to its expanse? But I also think a lot about what's on this planet of ours. For example, I think about what the center of the Earth is like. No one has been able to get anywhere near the center of the Earth, but scientists have theories all the same. Is it really an incredibly hot core in the center of the planet, or does it instead contain a bizarre civilization that was conceived by bad movie director Albert Pyun?

I realize there's only one who could have the answer to those and other similarly perplexing questions such as those - God. Believe me, I have tried over many years to try and get to know God better so that I might increase my knowledge of various things. But I have been frustrated by the results of my many attempts over my lifetime to do so. I have tried reading the Bible several times, but I simply could not get into this written work that claims to have answers for everybody. So I have looked for answers from fellow human beings, but I haven't had luck there. Jack Chick tracts, for one thing, raise as many questions as they supposedly answer, such as Jack's claim that the dinosaurs died out not long after the Great Flood because they were so big and the flood thinned the oxygen in the atmosphere. (Uh, Jack, if you are reading this review from heaven, a number of dinosaurs were the size of chickens or dogs - why did they die out? And why didn't elephants or giraffes die out?) Then there are people on television who claim to have the Good Word from the Good Book. I've tried watching such people from time to time over the years, but my memory always reminds me of certain evangelists who have made fools of themselves despite their claims. For example, there was Jimmy Swaggart, who was caught with a prostitute not once, but twice. Then there was the saga of Jim and Tammy Fay Bakker, whose ministry was eventually hit with charges of fraud, which eventually landed Jim in prison. Then there was Peter Popoff, whose so-called faith healing was exposed as a fraud, though after his following subsequently fell off and he declared bankruptcy, he managed years later to rebuild his following and continue despite what had been exposed.

Maybe I won't get an answer to my big questions from people like Popoff, but whenever I am flipping through the channels on my TV and come across people like him, one thought inevitably comes to mind - that religious programming has a lot of potential for humor. Probably you have Pray TVseen the funny side to it from time to time, with people like Swaggart or Oral Roberts making fools out of themselves in front of the camera. The question comes as to why Hollywood hasn't mined this subject that often. Well, I think it's because there is a limited audience for such movies - religious people wouldn't go to a movie making fun of religion, and there are more people who have some sort of faith than non-believers. Personally, though I like to believe there is some sort of God out there, at the same time I do see the funny side of many who claim to know God's word but show to the public a side that is most ungodly. So I was open to the movie Pray TV, which was advertised as a comedy poking fun at religious television. What really got me excited about the movie was that it promised to be more or less a sketch comedy movie a la The Kentucky Fried Movie and The Groove Tube. Though unlike those two sketch comedy movies, this is one that has a little plot holding all the sketches together, such as Cracking Up and Prime Time. The setting of the movie is in the small town of San Poquito, at the town's television station KRUD (ha ha ha). The station has been losing money for some time, and is in danger of being shut down. So Millie Peebles (Joyce Jameson, Death Race 2000), the owner of the station, brings in an old friend (Dabney Coleman, The Man With One Red Shoe) to turn things around. The old friend, a man named Marvin Fleece (ho ho ho), quickly states his plan: to turn the station into a broadcaster of nothing but religious programs. Rebranding the station as KGOD (hee hee hee), the station in short notice starts broadcasting various wacky spiritual shows, which we get to see one by one for a good part of the movie. (Har har har).

Since Pray TV promised more or less to be a sketch comedy movie, albeit one with a plot holding the sketches together and a common theme to the sketches, I wondered what the best way would be to start reviewing it. After a little thought, I decided I would start by doing something I did in my review of Cracking Up - describing a number of the sketches to give a good picture of the quality of the movie's humor. It's been years since I reviewed that movie, so I think it's okay after so much time to repeat a technique I used in a past review. So here is a sampling of some the programming that's broadcast by Pray TV's television station:

  • Before KRUD becomes KGOD, we get to see some examples of the programming by the struggling station. One of these programs is a morning exercise show. The show is hosted by two exercise instructors, one of whom is FAT. Can you imagine it - someone who is urging an audience to get into shape who happens to be FAT? Isn't that hilariously ironic?
  • When KGOD goes on the air, we get to see the revamped news hour. The top story that's reported on the premiere episode is an exorcism that has been going on for three days. When they cut to the location where it's happening, a darkened bedroom room full of "flying" objects obviously on wires, the reporter on the scene states that the Devil has refused to leave the possessed victim because, "Possession is nine-tenths of the law." The news show's next report concerns sports, namely a football game played by orthodox Jews and Hare Krishnas, with both teams in traditional dress. Ha, isn't just the thought of that worth a few laughs?
  • KGOD's commercials also have a religious theme as well. One commercial has a used car lot owner by the name of Reverend Bilie Bob Joe Brown Jr. hawking his used cars. Not just ordinary used cars - religious cars, which are ordinary cars with religious pictures painted on them. At one point in the commercial, he states about a "resurrected" used Chevy van, "It's a steal at $895, so we charge you $995." A few seconds later, he states, "Easy terms right here at Reverend Billy's. Just one-tenth of your yearly earnings and option on your firstborn."
  • There is also a commercial for a product named "Karma Septic", for people who suffer from bad luck such as falling down from a porch or a motorcycle. With one snort from the product's bottle, you'll have good karma and will be able to have such good luck like having sex with a dog (?) At the end of the commercial, there is the following statement: "WARNING: Dahlia lama (sic) has prophesized that Karma-modifiers maybe (sic) hazardous to your id."
  • We get to see part of an episode of a religious soap opera called One Life To Lose. As an organ plays in the background, we see the trials of the Bible's Mary and Joseph. Mary is pregnant, so they go to a clinic, where Mary on her donkey is told to, "Get your ass in here," by the doctor, who shortly afterwards follows up with the statement, "Let's check the b*tch out then." The sketch only lasts about thirty seconds more, but manages in that short time to get even worse.
  • The programming on KGOD includes a game show with the name Healed For A Day. Hosted by one Dr. Ben Gay, the show's contestants are various sick and crippled people hoping to be chosen to play for the potential prize of being healed. The grand prize is a ranch vacation, where we get to photos of people in walkers and stretchers indulging in ranch activities like riding horses. (I thought they would have been healed in the game show beforehand... but whatever.)

As you can probably guess by the samples of the television station's broadcasts that I described above, I did not find the satiric programming in Pray TV to be all that funny. And I have a strong feeling that what I described did not come across as all that amusing to you as well. If the entire movie had been one satiric religious-themed television program after another, I think the movie would have been agonizing to sit through. But as I indicated earlier, this is not the case, since there is a plot of sorts holding the sketches together. With this plot, Pray TV definitely had the opportunity to not only add variety to the narrative, but to do different kinds of humor, like having colorful characters struggling in length with various ongoing issues. Especially since the movie places a lot more focus on the plot than you might think. (The sketches almost become an afterthought at times.) So how does this part of the movie hold up? Well, I think I'll do here what I did with the satiric religious programming - that is, give you readers some samples of what's done concerning the plot:

  • When Marvin Fleece has his first meeting with the KRUD employees explaining his vision for the new programming that the station will soon broadcast, as he passionately talks we hear in the background singers humming to the tune of The Battle Hymn Of The Republic. Gee, I've never heard that song used before whenever someone has made a speech in a movie.
  • When auditions are being held to find new talent for KGOD, we get to see various zany religious people audition. One of these people is an orthodox Jew who, after being seen petting a pig, speaks in "hip" lingo, saying things like, "Cause you ain't gonna rest or be blessed or get out of this mess unless you confess!" Later in the audition, we get to see a group called, "The Krishna Quartet", with one member sporting the name "Hung Lo".
  • There is a subplot in the movie about two employees at the KGOD station, Fletcher (Archie Hahn, Cannonball) and Peggy (Nancy Morgan, Grand Theft Auto), the former who is the son of station owner Millie. The two employees are attracted to each other, and during a quiet moment together, the two find they have something in common and are about to kiss... when they are abruptly interrupted by (you'll never guess who!) Millie.
  • KGOD's increasing success has Marvin Fleece and Fletcher frantically looking for even more new talent to showcase. Marvin and Fletcher visit one preacher who preaches at a drive-in. The preacher proclaims things like, "The hardest thing there is to do is to give every single penny you have to God!" A short time afterwards, they go to the local "Pan African Church Of God". Fletcher sits in the service, where the guest reverend talks to the African-American congregation all about how the whites have been suppressing blacks, much to Fletcher's discomfort. Ah, racism, always a funny topic. Naturally, I am sure the scene would have been just as funny had the races been reversed, right?
  • Things turn sour between Fletcher and Peggy, since Fletcher can't understand Peggy's concerns that Fleece is (surprise!) exploiting religion for profit. When Fleece privately sees Peggy and tries to slip her a few bucks, she rips the money up. Fleece can't understand it - he tells her she could have had her own little diesel Volkswagen.

After reading all the above examples of stuff that happens in the main plot of Pray TV, you might be wondering if there is anything remotely funny to be found in the movie. Well, there was one - just one - moment in the movie that I found to be (sort of) amusing. It was a commercial for a frozen dinner line with Jesus Christ and his mother Mary hawking the product. Actually, the bulk of the commercial was a comic dud, but it ended with a one-liner that I must admit made me smirk slightly. But as I indicated, it was just one brief moment in a sea of desperate unfunniness. So when it comes to delivering comedy, Pray TV is pretty much a complete failure. But does the movie have any other features possibly having interest to viewers? Well, fans of musician Dr. John or the rock group Devo may be interested in seeing their appearances in the movie. Though fans more likely than not they'll be disappointed that their appearances are not only brief, the movie keeps cutting away to other people as they perform their songs. As for the other participants in the movie, some viewers might be interested in seeing some pre-fame talent. Among the cast are Paul Reubens (a.k.a. Pee Wee Herman), Marcia Wallace (The Simpsons), and Roger E. Mosley (Magnum P.I.). Although the material they perform is painfully unfunny, they and the remainder of the cast manage to make their characters come across as a unexpectedly likable bunch of individuals. Even Dabney Coleman, despite playing a guy whose only god is the almighty dollar, makes his character surprisingly palatable. It's not enough to save the movie, however; the relentlessly unfunny screenplay makes the viewing experience all the same a painful one. Still, while I am definitely not saying, "Praise God!" for having discovered this sketch comedy movie, I will give Pray TV the following praise: It's better than the sketch comedy movies Cracking Up and Outtakes. Slightly.

(Posted May 25, 2018)

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See also: Outtakes, Prime Time, Viewer Discretion Advised