AUGUST 5, 1974
Video Follies
by Jay Cocks
Directed by KEN SHAPIRO
Screenplay by KEN SHAPIRO and
      Two and three-tenths cheers for The Groove Tube, an amalgamation of juiced-up skits on the subject - and at the expense - of television. The Groove Tube first saw life some six years ago as a series of sketches on videotape. It has been expanding since, from the college circuit to its current incarnation here, a brisk theatrical feature made, according to the distributors, "at a cost of more than half a million dollars."
       The Groove Tube probably looked better on tape. There, the visual texture of television can be effortlessly duplicated and, in more modest circumstances, the film's misfires and arid portions would not seem so greatly enlarged. A bit of patience is required plus some small tolerance for a sort of home-room scatology, but perseverence is rewarded. The Groove Tube is often enough a hoot, a real good time. It could pace Sleeper on a slow track.
       The movie is largely the doing of Ken Shapiro, who directed, helped write the script, and kept most of the good parts for himself. Shapiro's attacks on the bounties of popular television are pratfall absurdist, his dithering humor a hybrid of Robert Downey (Greaser's Palace, Putney Swope) and Carol Burnett. Shapiro's tactic is to restage some popular forms - a commercial, an adventure series, the 6 o'clock news - with all due attention to nuances of style. One of The Groove Tube's best sequences, for example, is a Butz beer commercial. "When you're out of Butz, you're out of guts!" runs the slogan. To illustrate, we are whisked to one of those boisterous prole bars where every guy in the joint clutches a foaming mug or frosted bottle. Shapiro carries the scene to its ruthlessly realistic and quite hilarious conclusion. One guy, who seems to be just easing out of a day driving the No. 4 bus, decks a well-groomed type in a flowered shirt. The whole bar erupts, the virtues of malt and macho are duly celebrated, and the place looks like Pork Chop Hill at the fadeout.
       Some of the skits are lamer: a kiddie show where the clown host reads the little ones porn, or a windy send-up of a typical series called "The Dealers," which has to do with the abortively comic exploits of a couple of hard-luck traffickers in grass. But overall the movie maintains high energy. There is one scene of true inspiration. At the end of the 6 o'clock news, the anchor man signs off and sits staring, smile firmly fixed, waiting for the fadeout and credits. Nothing happens. Soon the smile begins to stiffen at the edges, grow nervous. Gamely, still in character, the anchor man shuffles script pages on his desk, making official-looking marks in the upper right corners. Still nothing. His composure never crumbles, just begins to crack. Smile still in place, if just a little askew, the anchor man starts to slip slowly off his chair, and down out of camera range beneath his desk. For laughs it beats the Today show clean.

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