Movie review by
Renee Schonfeld, Common Sense Media
EDtv Movie Poster Image
Comic satire of reality TV; lots of dysfunction, sexuality.
  • PG-13
  • 1999
  • 124 minutes

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Shines a light on commercialism, false celebrity, diminishing privacy and dignity, and mob mentality. Asks the compelling question: Are people famous for being special or special for being famous?

Positive Role Models & Representations

The film's everyman starts out as unmotivated, uninformed, naive, and immature. Over the course of the film, he learns to value human dignity and intimacy and acquire an awareness of the exploitation of ordinary people. He develops empathy and begins to protect and care for others. With one exception, the corporate world is portrayed as greedy and manipulative. One female character uses her looks and sexuality to get ahead. Some ethnic diversity.   


Two brothers scuffle briefly. A character is pushed to the floor by a nightclub crowd.


Sexual innuendo, leering, kissing throughout. References to: erections, masturbation infidelity, penile implants, dying from a heart attack while engaged in sexual activity. A partially nude woman is seen from behind wearing thong underwear; a couple starts to undress during foreplay (bare shoulders seen); a man and a woman are shown in the throes of passion and foreplay until the man falls to the floor. Story elements include cheating on a partner or spouse, lying about sexual encounters, dealing with prolonged celibacy, and the nature of privacy during sexual activity. 


Frequent coarse language, swearing, insults, and sexual dialogue: "hell," "s--t," "asshole," "pissed off," "horse's ass," "goddamn," "bastard," "sniffing my balls," "he's a bad lay," "p---y," "bed wetter," "men suck," "schmuck," and "putz." A female producer gives her coworkers the finger. A prominent book title is My Brother Pissed on Me.


In keeping with the film's satiric premise of commercialization and exploitation by media and other corporations, identifiable products and retail establishments (some real, some fictional) are visible and featured almost nonstop throughout the film. Among them: Pepsi-Cola, Miller Lite, KFC, UPS, Camry, Bud Light, Ghirardelli, USA Today, Kellogg's, Hummer, Saturn, People magazine, Motorola, and numerous San Francisco-based businesses (Gino & Carlo, Sodini's, Desmond Hotel).

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

The hero wears beer on a cord around his neck. Scenes in bars and a pool hall show characters drinking beer and other alcoholic beverages. Drinks are served in social situations. The leading lady is intoxicated in one scene. One man smokes. 

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that 1999's EDtv is a comic satire of reality TV before the genre exploded over the airwaves. Anticipating a time when television stars were made because they confronted neighbors, hoarded garbage, or intimidated underlings, the movie sends up the kind of celebrity that emerges simply because a shared audience can't turn away. The only thing that sets hero Ed Pekurny and his dysfunctional family apart from later TV pseudo-stars is that he's up close and personal on the screen EVERY DAY, ALL THE TIME. Sexual behavior -- smooching, leering, partial nudity, foreplay, language, adultery -- plays a central part in the story, and profanity and insults ("pissed off," "asshole," "s--t," "p---y," "goddamn," "bastard") are frequent. Because rampant commercialism and advertising are key targets of the filmmakers, products and brands are on-screen throughout the movie, almost continuously. A character dies off camera. Some scenes show drinking and smoking; pills are referred to; one player gets intoxicated. 

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What's the story?

True TV, a fictional basic cable channel, is desperate for ratings in EDTV. Executive Cynthia Topping (a genial Ellen DeGeneres) comes to the rescue when she proposes that the channel capture the life of one American in real time, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Her superiors are skeptical; who'd want to watch? The answer comes swiftly -- everyone would watch if the one American is the handsome, captivating Ed Pekurny (Matthew McConaughey in great comic form). When Ed's love life, family melodrama, and feud with his moronic brother Ray (an all-out daft Woody Harrelson) explode, the ratings explode along with them. The bewildered Ed, affable at the outset but not all that aware, soon learns that being on television full-time is not the lark he thought it would be, that losing all sense of privacy is much worse than being a bit of a slacker, and that relationships suffer terribly if they're shared with a rabid public. An airtight contract seems to have determined Ed's fate, but when he figures it out, he's no longer the rube who sealed the deal; Mr. Pekurny becomes his own staunch advocate.

Is it any good?

This movie has gotten funnier over time because the message has so much more resonance. A box office failure when it was released, EDtv finally found audiences years after its release. After watching the reality TV genre become exactly like Ed Pekurny's show, audiences have had renewed interest in the film. It's gained in stature and popularity and has achieved cult-like status in some circles. Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson are both terrific; they play their parts with abandon, never afraid to look too ridiculous. Ellen DeGeneres and Jenna Elfman are wonderfully charming. The film relies heavily on broad, farcical situations, on a laughable family so filled with dysfunction that it seemed fantastical at the time of the film's release. Though there's no actual sex, the movie depends upon sexuality, seduction, infidelity, and coarse language for much of the low-brow humor. However, today's reality TV with its self-made celebrities and proverbial "rock stars" has proven that no life captured on visual media is too ludicrous to earn an audience.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how the basic premise of this movie anticipated what actually happened in the world of reality television after 1999 (when the movie was released). Though the story may have seemed outrageous at the time, what is there about shows like EDtv that draw such huge audiences?  

  • Satire can be a powerful way to expose society's imperfections. What is satire? What is EDtv satirizing? How are "satire" and "parody" different?

  • What does the movie mean when it asks, "Are people famous for being special, or are they special for being famous?" How does the answer apply to today's roster of celebrities?

Movie details

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