'Ed TV' had me mildly interested for about the first half its running
length. But after that, it made its point and then just kept going on
and on before finding a trivial way to conclude itself. How appropriate
that a film about television should have so many people from
television's history in it. Woody Harrelson ('Cheers'), Ellen DeGeneres
('Ellen'), Rob Reiner ('All in the Family'), Jenna Elfman ('Dharma and
Greg'), and Martin Landau ('Mission Impossible', 'Space: 1999').
Screenwriters Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel even got their start on the
small screen, and directing it all, little Opie and Richie Cunningham
(Ron Howard). The star of 'Ed TV' (Matthew McConaughey) saves the film
from being a total failure just as he did with 1996's 'A Time to Kill'
which also hung on by a thread every time he wasn't on screen.
McConaughey is starting to fall into the same trap as George Clooney in
so much as he is extremely talented but can't quite find the right film
role after a few years on the big screen to really push him over the
line into true stardom.
In 'Ed TV' McConaughey stars as Ed Pekurny, a 31 year-old video store
clerk who gets selected by a failing network to be the star of its new
show. A show without scripts, directors or focus. It's the brainchild
of a programming executive (Ellen DeGeneres). And taking credit for it
all is a shady and shark like fellow executive (Rob Reiner). It's
entitled Ed TV and the concept is simple: an ordinary man's life will be
put on television 24 hours a day as he goes about his usual business and
every detail of his life will be for the general entertainment of the
viewing public. Actually, Ed isn't on television when he sleeps but the
cameras are there to greet him when he opens his eyes in the morning.
Sound familiar? 'Ed TV' is, in many ways, the reverse of 'The Truman
Show' where a man's life was on t.v. from the cradle into his 30's but
the only difference is that he didn't know about it and Ed does.
Ed's family is quite a handful. His older brother Ray (Harrelson)
believes he should have been chosen for the show and although the rest
of the family is against the idea at first, Ray says: "He's 31 years
old and works as a video store clerk. What's he going to do? Spend the
rest of his life re-arranging "Ernest" movies?" Ed and Ray's mother and
step dad (Sally Kirkland and Martin Landau) have a solid marriage at
first but the new show brings out secrets that may threaten their
relationship when Ed's long lost dad (Dennis Hopper) comes to visit.
Ray's fiancé Shari (Jenna Elfman) eventually falls for Ed, complicating
things even further and Ed wants to quit the show but the network won't
let him out of his contract. He breaks up with Shari and the audience
is dying to see him get it on with a hot model (Elizabeth Hurley). We
constantly see people from all over America watching the show, injecting
their own opinions about what should happen in Ed's life and the show's
direction in many ways is determined by polls taken and the published
results show up constantly in the newspaper USA Today. Ed rides the
zamboni at hockey games and is cheered on by folks, has his image
plastered on the side of city buses with a caption beside it promoting
the show, has people following him on the streets wanting his autograph
and there are plenty of in-jokes about television. Put that together
with plenty of annoying product placements and advertisements and you
REALLY have a movie about t.v.!
Gee, did I describe the film enough for you? My point in this case was
to tell you more than I had to really, to illustrate that most of this
happens in about the first hour to 75 minutes and then the film gets
bogged down with reflection on the part of Ed as he looks back on the
whole experience with regret and the film shifts gears from comedy to
drama and can't decide what its real purpose is. The best performance
in the film comes from Harrelson and Ganz and Mandel's script has its
usual flubbering of jokes that are in bad taste, inventing new terms and
combining some old ones for a few belly laughs but the film feels like a
failed sales pitch where you think you may have the potential to buy a
product you'll like, but you just can't quite see yourself paying for
The film does make some good points about the state of television in the
90's where trashy television pays off with enough people supporting it.
A major news story came out at the end of 1998 citing that network
television viewer ship was down a whopping 12% for the year, making it
the biggest loser in media competition. When a professional wrestling
program is currently the biggest show on cable, what does THAT say about
the state of quality? Not a lot in my opinion and that's sort of what
'Ed TV' is like. It's staged, it's false, and it doesn't mean a whole
lot except for what you already know about television. How many people
want to lay down money for a big screen movie with a small screen
message? I don't.
Copyright © 2000 Walter Frith