Television, as we have been repeatedly told, is the Drug Of The Nation. But, if EDtv is to be believed, the seemingly harmless, flickering screen is in fact more the Thug Of The Nation - - a brutal little one-eyed troll. Of course, TV doesn't commit its acts of emotional vandalism alone. In Ron Howard's latest comedy (based on the French movie Louis XIX: Le Roi Des Ondes), it has accomplices: the entire American public. Which is probably why it tanked in the States, grossing little over $20 million. It's a reminder of Film-making Rule Number One: don't piss off your audience.
Us Brits, however, are far less likely to be upset by the idea that American couch potatoes are malicious, uncaring parasites, the kind of people who will, for example, hound and insult Ed's girlfriend Shari (Elfman) because she's not telegenic enough. So we're more likely to watch without prejudice and appreciate EDtv for what it really is: a well-observed and sometimes moving comedy, which deals with a big issue in an inventive way.
While the (admittedly superior) The Truman Show presented invasion of privacy as a clandestine activity, with the `star' utterly unaware of his round-the-clock surveillance, EDtv presents us with a subject who welcomes the cameras and revels in his newfound fame. Truman was an unwilling celebrity who just wanted to be a normal person; Ed is an everyman who wants to be famous, but is ignorant of the consequences. They're on completely different channels, but are both the subject of manipulation by scheming executives.
It would be so easy to dismiss Ed as a clueless hick who deserves everything he gets (especially as, in his keenness to play up to the camera, he's not entirely blameless), if it weren't for the fact that Matthew McConaughey makes him so damn likeable. The blue-eyed boy from Texas has, rather unfairly, been ignored as an acting talent. This is probably because, despite some great performances (Dazed And Confused, Lone Star), he's been wasted in mediocre movies (Amistad, A Time To Kill). And EDtv's poor box office ain't going to help, even though he makes full use of his expansive, Newmanesque charisma.
You also couldn't ask for a better supporting cast: Harrelson provides many of the laughs in the form of Ed's proudly uncouth brother, while Martin Landau shovels out most of the remaining chuckles as their decrepit stepfather. Dennis Hopper also makes a satisfying cameo as Ed's loser dad.
And don't worry about the inclusion of Liz Hurley in the cast list. Her presence as Ed's replacement girlfriend reminds you that she does have a sense of humour and is perfectly willing to indulge in self-parody, especially when she introduces herself as "a model and sort of an actress". But this is just one of many well-aimed one-liners in a cleverly conceived and ambitious satire which didn't deserve its Stateside drubbing.