1999 | Ron Howard
The EDtv experience is a disappointingly common one. While the film isn’t particularly bad, it isn’t particularly memorable, either. Released shortly after The Truman Show, the films draw obvious comparisons. Both are satires on reality TV and human nature. Unlike The Truman Show, EDtv‘s main subject, Ed (Matthew McConaughey) is very aware he is constantly being broadcast around the country. Where The Truman Show‘s poignancy lies in its protagonist’s ignorance, EDtv fails because of its protagonist’s genuine likeability. Aside from his Hollywood good looks, Ed is average. He is an unambitious video store clerk. He’s completely ordinary, with no discernible personality flaws whatsoever. He makes a great subject for the meta-show of EDtv because he is so relatable. His down-to-earth “normalness”, however, just makes the film inoffensively predictable.
Desperate for ratings, a telelvision network greenlights a new project titled “Real TV,” a concept put forward by producer Cynthia (Ellen Degeneres) and ultimately headed by network executive, “Mr. Whitaker” (a particularly villainous Rob Reiner). The concept is to broadcast, live on air, 24 hours a day, the everyday life of an everyday nobody. When Ed and older brother Ray (McConaughey’s future True Detective co-star, Woody Harrelson) drunkenly audition for the show together, Cynthia and the network opt to go with Ed as the sole star of the show.
As predicted by everyone watching the film, but no one in the film, Ed’s life is pretty boring. He wakes up with a chubby, plays with it, realises he’s on television and checks out his own butt. Within hours, the network want to cancel the show. It’s weird that no one ever saw this coming. That is, until day three, when Ed surprises Ray at his home to learn, along with his cameramen and the entire country, that Ray is cheating on girlfriend Shari (Jenna Elfman) with, in Ray’s words, “a naked homeless woman,” he’s just helping out. After Ray sends Ed to beg Shari to take him back, Ed confesses his feelings for her and the two kiss. On national television. Ray is watching.
It sounds predictable, and that’s because it is. From start to finish, the film’s events are unashamedly telegraphed, but veteran director (and audience-pleaser) Ron Howard has the experience and nous to pull it off relatively well. A young McConaughey is great as Ed, as is Woody Harrelson; the chemistry between the two elevating each other’s performances. Even the wonderful performance from Martin Landau (as stepfather, Al) is predictable, but now I’m just being sardonic.
Where the film fails is its indecision. No one seems to know what kind of film this is supposed to be. Where The Truman Show was a lesson in human nature, using Truman’s relationships to further the story and distort his reality, EDtv is a passively broad… nothing-really, of a film. Is it a satire on human nature? Is it a meta-commentary on our willingness to invade privacy for entertainment? Or is it just another, banal (albeit amusing) romantic comedy? The Truman Show succeeded in focusing on the story at its core. EDtv tries to simultaneously survive as a biting satire and a broad, light-hearted comedy.
Viewed at face value, the film is enjoyable enough. None of it is inherently bad; it’s just predictable and oddly stale, given its uncommon devices. It all makes for overly forgettable viewing, really. But it’s worth a shot.