EDtv (review)

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Burn Your Television

Like last year’s Wag the Dog, EDtv sets out to spoof the media and inadvertently ends up lampooning the public that consumes the media’s products. Genial and laid-back where Dog was biting and sarcastic, EDtv raises, as Dog did, many questions to which no one, on- or offscreen, seems to have the answers.

TrueTV network exec Cynthia Topping (Ellen DeGeneres) compares her brainstorm to a car accident you just can’t look away from: she wants to put one person’s life on television, 24/7. The ordinary Joe TrueTV chooses is Ed Pekurny (Matthew McConaughey, from Amistad), a likable dope with a perfectly normal dysfunctional family, a boring job as a clerk in a video store, and… well, that’s about it. He accepts TrueTV’s offer to have cameras follow him around because, as his brother, Ray (Woody Harrelson), says, “How many chances do guys like you and I get?”
Why is this bizarre situation considered a “chance”? Why will people do almost anything to be on television? And why will the public watch just about anything? EDtv never really stops to mull over these imponderables, taking the easier way out to show us people all over America getting caught up in Ed’s life: family dramas involving Ed’s mother, Jeanette (Sally Kirkland), stepfather, Al (Martin Landau, from The X-Files), and father, Hank (Dennis Hopper); one love triangle between Ed, his brother, and his brother’s girl, Shari (Jenna Elfman), and another between Ed, Shari, and Jill (Elizabeth Hurley, from My Favorite Martian), a fame-seeking model. It’s “a joyous celebration of boobery,” one media pundit chimes in.

EDtv is amusing, and the cast is excellent — Hurley and Elfman in particular seem destined for great things, and Landau is a scene stealer — but I wanted a little exploration of the whys. Why isn’t Ed bothered by his sudden lack of privacy? Why isn’t he upset when his audience calls Shari a “psycho chick” and “damaged goods” for not wanting to have a relationship with Ed on camera? Why would anyone think it’s cool to have a USA Today poll pick who you should be dating?

And then there’s the other end of the equation: the audience. Why do people find television more interesting that their own lives? One telling scene has a husband standing in front of a TV tuned to Ed, desperate to get his wife’s attention — she just waves him aside (need I say we later see the husband just as caught up in Ed as his wife is?). It’s almost understandable when what’s on the tube is fantasy, an escape from a dull routine. But EDtv offers Ed’s fairly dull routine, spiced mostly only with the usual minor excitement we all get in our lives. In fact, EDtv may offer the most realistic depiction of average lives ever in a Hollywood movie, complete with kitchen sinks overflowing with dirty dishes; meals consisting of KFC, frozen dinners, and junk food; wardrobes of grungy sweats and t-shirts; and a decor of ugly, mismatched furniture highlighted with dancing beer cans and beaded curtains. But really, who wants to watch that? It’s not EDtv‘s plausibility that I doubt — the movie is all too believable. If people will watch Jerry Springer, I’m sure that a real-life EDtv would be a huge hit. It’s just people in general that have me shaking my head in disbelief.

When the plug finally, and inevitably, gets pulled on Ed, one viewer cries in despair, “What do they expect us to do now?” It’s a funny line, but as enjoyable as EDtv is, I was hoping for a little examination of that attitude, and the reasons people would tune in to Ed in the first place.

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