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EDTV

by: Scott Renshaw

You'd think that the makers of EDtv could take comfort in critic Roger Ebert's dictum that "a movie isn't about what it's about, it's how it's about what it's about." The film is, after all, facing the daunting task of following THE TRUMAN SHOW, a brilliant satire on the cult of personality and loss of privacy in the mass media age. EDtv, the filmmakers could argue, is about some of those same themes in a different way. This one is about why people choose to be famous, and what they give up along the way. Sure, like THE TRUMAN SHOW it's about a man's life turned into 24-hour entertainment, but director Ron Howard could still make the claim that EDtv is unique.

And he'd be right, for all the worst possible reasons. EDtv is a shallow and jokey rendering of its subject, a toothless satire that fades before the last punchline. The titular protagonist is Ed Pekurny (Matthew McConaughey), an under-motivated and under-employed 31-year-old video store clerk who auditions for a cable network's radical new broadcasting concept. True-TV's program director Cynthia Topping (Ellen DeGeneres) wants to turn a man's life into a live, un-edited "reality" program, and good-looking Everyman Ed is her choice. Amazingly, "EDtv" the show becomes a must-see hit, particularly when Ed becomes romantically involved with Shari (Jenna Elfman), the girlfriend of his brother Ray (Woody Harrelson). Will fame and fortune keep Ed from the chance for true love, corrupting his values the way we all know media can?

Hard to say, since we're not exactly to privvy to what Ed's values were in the first place. As played with drawling nonchalance by Matthew McConaughey, Ed is nearly bereft of an identifiable personality. The closest Lowell Ganz & Babaloo Mandel's script comes to defining Ed is suggesting that he's basically a lazy simpleton who figures he can hit the big time by becoming a celebrity without doing any actual work. Trouble is, that kind of personality wouldn't instantly endear Ed either to his televsion audience or to us, so instead he's made a nice-guy rascal who scratches himself jes' like reg'lar folks. In short, he's a bore, as the subject of a television show and the subject of a feature film.

Even with a lackluster leading man, EDtv might have worked if there had been any spark to its satire. How very bizarre to watch it instead morph into a kind of a meta-commentary on its own mass media sentibilities. As "EDtv" becomes a phenomenon, we watch a parade of celebrities offer cameo commentary on Ed-mania: Ariana Huffington, George Plimpton, filmmaker Michael Moore, Jay Leno, Bill Maher, etc. EDtv often aims to score points simply by trotting out famous faces, then finds no irony in a film about fame-for-fame's-sake which includes zingers from RuPaul. Even the endless series of advertisements on "EDtv" feels more self-serving than sardonic; aside from the clever use of a Trojans ad during one of Ed's romantic trysts, they feel like someone trying to have his product placement cake and eat it too.

EDtv still manages to be sporadically amusing, thanks largely to the gag-meister sit-com style of Ganz and Mandel. Martin Landau turns in a sharp supporting performance as Ed's wheelchair-bound stepfather, and Howard comes up with a couple of nicely-observed touches like the viewing parties that pop up around Ed's first on-air sex. In general, though, Ron Howard is a sentimentalist with about as much edginess as a Teletubbie. He's more interested in making EDtv a fairly generic romanctic comedy than in digging into the reasons behind Americans' video voyeurism, or examining how, in a post-modernist twist, our awareness of "reality" television has made reality just as staged as drama. In the end, EDtv really is about the subject of mass media in its own way. It's about how much easier it is to let the viewers feel good than it is to tell them what they need

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