A man's life unfolds on camera 24 hours a day, and a mass audience takes in every minute of it, from the painful to the mundane. Sound familiar? Without a doubt Peter Weir mapped this terrain first with "The Truman Show," a dark parable about the perils of information-age excess. For "EDtv" Ron Howard, as might be expected from the director of "Parenthood" and "Splash," goes for something lighter.
This time the star of the show -- an unambitious video-store clerk played to wide-eyed perfection by Matthew McConaughey -- is completely aware of his role in the soon-to-be hit series on True TV, the network where "every second is true."
During the first few hours of the broadcast Ed revels in things like explaining the genius of a mirror that allows him to watch television while sitting on the toilet. Various pundits despise the program. "This is a new low point in American culture," filmmaker Michael Moore complains. "It's sort of a joyless celebration of boobery," another panelist declares.
The movie, though, is an unalloyed delight, a kick of a comic romp marked by a funny script, solid performances and a plot that, like Ed's life, veers in surprising directions.
Cynthia (Ellen DeGeneres), the show's cynical creator, promises that the concept will be unlike any other previous reality-based program. "We're not going to film it and then edit it later," she tells arrogant network head Whitaker (Rob Reiner). Thus, not much happens ... at first.
Then the sparks begin to fly. Ed's brother Ray, a showboating fool played by Woody Harrelson, initially gets what he wants from the show -- free publicity for his gym. But the camera also catches Ray with a woman other than his girlfriend Shari (Jenna Elfman of television's "Dharma and Greg").
The camera is also there when Shari swears off Ray, dissing his sexual skills, and begins to fall for Ed. Family secrets begin spilling out of the closet, too. And the truth-telling takes on a vicious life of its own when alcoholic, long-lost pop (Dennis Hopper) shows up.
Cynthia, in other words, has created a Frankenstein of a show, and the final act of "Edtv" centers on efforts to kill the monster. It's a seriously funny murder.