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‘Stu’s Show’ (review)

I just watched this great new fairy tale movie.

It’s about this boy named Stu who has all these imaginary friends. He grows up to love a beautiful princess but she falls under an evil spell and it looks like she might sleep forever. But Stu doesn’t give up on her! He harnesses the strength and power he learned from his imaginary friends, and the friends become real, magical beings whose love helps revive the Princess!

Then, Stu and his Princess are married, with all their magical friends in attendance, and they live happily ever after.

An oversimplification, perhaps, but that’s the way I saw it.

Stu Shostak, the hero of Stu’s Show, the new documentary from CJ Wallis, grew up loving television shows and characters.

He later began to meet and actually work with some of the performers who played the characters he knew so well, including the late, great Lucille Ball.

If you’ve never met or seen him, you should know going in that Stu Shostak is a passionate man, obsessive in his love for classic television. He is also charming, funny, opinionated, incredibly knowledgeable, and with a loud, grating, obnoxious, in-your-face style that’s been known to drive some people bonkers! Whether he picked this up from Lucy or had it in him all along, it would actually come to serve him well in his dealings with unfeeling institutions and insurance companies.

When Stu’s girlfriend, Jeanine Kasun, suffered a brain aneurysm, she fell into a coma. Channeling the indomitable spirit of Lucy, Stu went on the offense, fighting both her condition and those who were not treating it properly (to say the least!). Scores of the actors and actresses who had become friends with Stu and Jeanine rallied around her in her time of need—and also helped try to keep Stu from killing anyone for mistreating her!

The documentary opens and closes with footage of Stu and Jeanine’s star-studded wedding ceremony after Stu simply refused to accept defeat and Jeanine defied the odds and began to recover.

By way of full disclosure, I was buying Betamax tapes of The Jack Benny Show from Stu way back in the 1980s, although I didn’t know him at the time. No, I came to know Stu through Mark Evanier’s plugging of Stu’s Internet Radio Show, also called Stu’s Show. In 2015, I even appeared on Stu’s Show as a guest—via a really poor phone connection—with Kathy Coleman, when we were plugging her autobiography. My wife and I both became fans and virtual friends of Stu and his charming and funny sidekick and co-host, Jeanine.

Stu’s Show, the movie, isn’t really about Stu’s talk show though.

Stu may have grown up watching Ozzie and Harriet, My Three Sons, and The Dick Van Dyke Show but at the end of the day, as is the case with all of us, Stu, himself, is the star of his own life, his own show. This documentary plays as a “very special episode,” and features a lot of familiar guest stars including Margaret O’Brien, Beverly Washburn, Michael Cole, Ed Asner, Geri Jewell, Stan Livingston, Butch Patrick, and many more, but in the end, it’s still an episode of Stu’s Show.

Stu’s friendship with Lucy is an important part of who Stu is as a person. Like everyone else in America for decades, he met Lucy from her various TV series—I Love Lucy, The Lucy Show, and Here’s Lucy. Unlike most of the rest of us, though, he got to meet and eventually work with Lucy in real life, even appearing in her final series, Life with Lucy. It’s their close relationship that highlights the early part of this documentary.

They say “Never meet your heroes.” We’re told here, as elsewhere, how demanding and unwavering TV’s greatest redhead could be in real life, how she always had to be tougher than the men as a female executive. We’re also shown a few hints of that here in rare, behind the scenes footage. Lucy was a woman who trusted her well-honed instincts, knew what she wanted in every circumstance, and simply never saw any reason to accept no as an answer. Whether or not he realized it at the time, Stu clearly learned a lot from Lucy.

It was a shared love of Lucy that eventually brought Stu Shostak and Jeanine Kasun together in their wonderful nerdy romance. After all, what’s a guy to do when he meets a woman who, like him, can quote classic TV sitcom dialogue?

Stu and Jeanine were enjoying a lovely relationship but chose not to marry. Although it seemed like a good idea at the time, this would sadly lead to some major problems when attempting to deal later with her medical needs. With very little warning, Jeanine collapsed one day while on the phone with Stu, beginning the couple’s fall down a most unexpected and unwanted rabbit hole.

Director CJ Wallis has accomplished a splendid job of introducing the real-life characters of his film and balancing the various concurrent tales herein. There’s a considerable amount of humor throughout, and yet we aren’t spared the nightmarish aspects of Jeanine’s situation and Stu’s seemingly endless struggles to get her the proper care, to get her back. It’s a tough wire to walk and yet Wallis makes it all the way across, right up to this fairy tale’s happy ending.

By the time we end up at the wedding, the viewer is so invested in our heroes that the feels—as the young folk say— hit hard when Jeanine comes walking down the aisle past all the familiar faces that all of us of a certain age grew up with, too. Stu Shostak’s former imaginary TV friends came through for Jeanine and Stu in the real world. They were there for her long and difficult recovery, and they turned out en masse for their wedding. Wally Cleaver (Tony Dow) was even Stu’s Best Man!

Educational and perhaps surprisingly entertaining considering the dark places it goes, in Stu’s Show, Wallis successfully documents a deep, abiding love story in which all of the diverse aspects of one man’s life come into play under some of the most harrowing circumstances one can ever imagine. But, man, you gotta love a happy ending!

Booksteve recommends.

*  *  *  *  *
Produced by Mallory Kennedy and CJ Wallis
Directed by CJ Wallis 
Featuring Stu Shostak, Jeanine Kasun, Ed Asner, Margaret O’Brien,
Tony Dow, Wink Martindale, Geri Jewell, Stanley Livingston, Betty White and Lucille Ball

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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