Don’t worry you read the title right, it says VHS review. This is because, sadly, the only way you can watch David Lynch and Mark Frost’s excellent series On The Air is either on VHS or on an a very rare Japanese Laserdisc. There are bootleg DVDs available but these are from either of these two sources. There are also terrible quality versions available to stream online but I can recommend avoiding these. I was lucky enough to find both volumes of the 7 part series in a video shop that was closing down and the videos I own are not too worn out yet. Hopefully a DVD release will surface at some point.
Whilst Twin Peaks was still airing and getting good viewing figures, David Lynch and Mark Frost began work on a new series for ABC, entitled On The Air. It was born out of an idea Lynch had whilst mixing the sound for Twin Peaks, “It just came into my head, the idea of people trying to do something successful and having it all go wrong” (Los Angeles Times, June 18, 1992).
The series is set in 1957 and centres on the behind the scenes antics of a cast and crew trying to create a live variety show called ‘The Lester Guy Show’ on ZBC (Zoblotnick Broadcasting Co.), run by the crazy Mr Zoblotnick. Lester Guy is played by Ian Buchanan, who played Dick Tremayne in Twin Peaks, and he plays the character well, as wonderfully self absorbed and overly dramatic. Also from Twin Peaks is Miguel Ferrer (FBI Agent Albert Rosenfield) as the cranky producer Bud Budwaller. Other key characters include Marla Rubinoff as Betty Hudson, David L. Lander as Vadja Gochktch (the incomprehensible director of ‘The Lester Guy Show’) and Kim McGuire (famous as Hatchet-Face in John Waters’ Cry-Baby) as Budwaller’s assistant Nicole Thorne.
The performances throughout On The Air are fantastic with Ian Buchanan doing a wonderful comic performance and Miguel Ferrer is marvellous in the straight man role which he plays with the same venom he displayed in Twin Peaks. Marla Rubinoff as Betty is so incredibly annoying, aided by a very shrill voice, but her irritating nature is fitting and is played up in the show to an extent where you almost feel sympathy towards the characters trying to ruin her career.
The production of The Lester Guy Show is plagued with things going wrong and the show always ends up being a total disaster but is immensely popular because of this. Betty also becomes the star of the show, despite being completely untalented and very stupid. Lester Guy, Budwaller and Nicole conspire to show Betty up but invariably end up making Lester look like even more of a fool.
The show is really funny, incredibly ridiculous and very strange. The humour is absurdist and pretty much unlike anything else I’ve seen on television. If you are expecting a series like Twin Peaks though, or any of Lynch’s other work, One The Air will be quite a surprise. It mixes slapstick with totally off the wall and bizarre visual gags and has almost no dark moments so often found in Lynch’s work. It does better display he wonderful sense of humour though, something that I think people often miss in his films. The series also touches on the dedication to random ideas that also enters in to much of Lynch’s work.
On The Air is a lot of fun and at only seven episodes it never gets close to outstaying it’s welcome. Also as a Lynch rarity and a post Twin Peaks oddity this series is a really interesting watch. Hopefully the series will finally get the DVD release it deserves and I for one will be making the upgrade from my old VHS copies. If you’re lucky enough to get the chance I can highly recommend checking out On The Air.
In the spirit of random absurdity (and in lieu of a good quality online video of On The Air) I have embedded David Lynch’s thoughts on Cheese.
(Thanks to the excellent lynchnet for the pictures and the link to the Los Angeles Times article)