Looking Ahead: The Cable Guy (1996)


The Cable Guy is an incredibly prescient comedy for 1996 that not only predicts The Internet Age but also the rise of the bromance and cruel comedies. Much was said at the time about Carrey’s mammoth paycheck but the fact he got that paycheck for this movie is fucking nuts. Essentially a bro-centric riff on Play Misty for Me and Fatal Attraction, it’s as dark as 90s comedy gets and Stiller even shoots it like a horror movie full of cramped rooms and shadowy crawl-spaces. There’s also a hellish nightmare sequence thrown in for good measure.

There’s nothing obviously funny about The Cable Guy aside from the absurdist and surreal tone in certain set-pieces. When Carrey’s cable guy hosts a karaoke party and invites his “regular customers” round, it’s like a scene out of Twin Peaks. Every single extra in that crowd has a face from a Polanski movie and it’s quite glorious. Plus his rendition of “Somebody to Love” is next-level whacked out. You could probably take this exact screenplay and make a good B-thriller out of it. I mean, how the hell did the scene where Carrey beats the living shit out of Owen Wilson in a public bathroom read on the page? It’d be hard to see potential there for big laughs. Even the finished sequence has a disturbing undercurrent that makes it all the more delicious. Has a Freddie Mercury mustache ever inspired such conflicted emotions?

Chip Douglas is a zany creation and I wonder how that character would have worked without Carrey. You can’t imagine anyone else doing it can you? With his endless TV geekdom, pop-culture riffage and penchant for sudden violence, he too feels like an early sketch for how comedy would develop and pan out in the subsequent years (see: Seth McFarlane’s rise to prominence). In my pre-teens Carrey was my favourite actor and I always loved this film despite it’s darkness tonal mixing pot leaving me a bit dumbfounded. There really was nobody like him headlining comedies back then. Even now it’s difficult to think of an actor who has mastered both physical and linguistic gymnastics to the extent Carrey did in his prime. This is the first film that suggested he had ambitions bigger than the films he was in (same goes for Stiller and Judd Apatow who produced the film in addition to providing uncredited re-writes). Carrey used his fame and cred to get this movie made. That’s pretty cool right?

I’m glad The Cable Guy has outlived it’s status as a colossal flop and example of Hollywood going Icarus and is instead becoming more recognized as an interesting piece of satire. I wish the film ended on that oh-so-brilliant slam-to-black as Chip impales himself on the satellite dish as that finale feels way more in keeping with the movie’s sick sense of humour than the five minutes that come after, but I guess they could only get away with so much (“He kills himself, everyone’s TV cuts out and the movie ends. Sounds commercial huh?”). Plus the homoerotic undertones feel a bit closed-minded and half-baked looking back but there’s still a ton of fun to be had. Just the faces of the supporting cast alone will put a smile on your face. Was this the last time we saw Jack Black pre-Jack Black persona? Is that Bob Odenkirk? Andy Dick? David Cross? Janeane Garofalo? My, look at how adorable Leslie Mann is! Ahh 1996. What a time. Somehow this film was way ahead of it.

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