Keeping up with the Begleys


Living with Ed doesn’t live up to its eco hype. By Deborah Snoonian


As a lifelong renter who just bought a condo, I’m the target audience for home improvement shows and an embarrassingly huge fan of them. Lately I’ve been watching Living With Ed, HGTV’s reality/infotainment series starring actor and environmentalist Ed Begley, Jr. and his wife Rachelle Carson Begley, to pick up some tips on greening my new place—and I did. But overall I was disappointed, even turned off at times. Calling this a green living show is like saying I support the local food movement because I buy Cheerios and milk at the corner bodega.

The premise of the series, which is set at the couple’s solar-powered Studio City bungalow in California, is that Ed’s green improvements make “everything a struggle,” as Rachelle says during the opening credits. The pair fight each other on issues like renovating their kitchen (she wants new appliances; he thinks the old ones are just fine) or conserving water (he installs a rain barrel in the garden; she rips it out). The show’s structure could work this way—defining a problem and then solving it are the meat and potatoes of infotainment. But Rachelle and Ed mostly argue without finding solutions. At one point, Ed accuses Rachelle of “cheating on his lifestyle” after she tours new homes with a real estate agent. Clearly the producers just wanted to give them something to bicker about, territory that’s better left to sitcoms (see Married With Children, The Honeymooners).

The two also come off as stereotypes ripped from Central Casting: Ed as the sandals-wearing do-gooder who pedals his exercise bike to generate electricity for making toast; Rachelle as the skeptical wife who dismisses his greenie leanings while daydreaming about a larger house or a meal cooked without a solar oven. On TV the effect is curiously disingenuous.

Rachelle’s blasé attitude about environmental issues—she tells Ed she “doesn’t care” where rainwater comes from—seems especially out of sync. Ironically, many eco types today look a lot more like her (an actress and mother of a young child, attractive, fit, casually stylish) than her fiftysomething husband (graying, dorky, awkwardly outdoorsy). And in an age when the Oscar highlights include Leonardo DiCaprio and Al Gore announcing that the event had gone green, you’d think that those who aspire to the showbiz lifestyle would at least try to walk the eco talk.

But sometimes Rachelle’s defiance is fitting. Who can blame her for crying foul over a rain barrel made of traffic-cone orange plastic? There’s no need to use ugly stuff to go green anymore, especially if you’re a celebrity couple.

The show’s best moments come when she and Ed collaborate on a project, like picking out new terrazzo countertops for their kitchen, and when guests offer eco tidbits: “The Quiet Gardener,” a landscaper identified only as “Chris,” explains that he uses a rechargeable (and yes, quieter) leaf blower instead of a fuel-powered one.

In the end, it’s probably unfair to expect celeb reality shows to offer useful greening strategies to the average viewer. I’ve got a better idea for a series: Match up new homeowners with eco experts who can help them track down beautiful, sustainable furnishings. I’ve even got a line on a location: a one-bedroom condo in Brooklyn, with south-facing windows, only two blocks from public transportation. It’ll be occupied by summertime. The owner is entertaining all offers.

Deborah Snoonian is the managing editor of Plenty. She closes on her new condo in August.

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Comments

I completely agree with your stance on this show. I don't have cable so i only watched one episode a couple weeks ago at my sister's house. It was the kitchen episode.

I thought it was completely obnoxious! And only for the sake of ratings unfortunetly. She argues just for the sake of arguing.

There were some helpful tips. The countertops i thought were way cool, made from recyled glass. Plus i am a mosaic artist and the look of it totally reminded me of a mosaic.

I do have to say prior to watching this show i had no idea that Ed Begley, Jr was an environmentalist. I have a new found respect for him.

Thanx!

I actually enjoy the show and find myself in simular discussions and conflicts with my own wife.

I think that the show does a decent job of showing "green" technology while trying to entertain an audience. Many non-environmentalists will get exposed to simple energy reducing strategies.

I also purchased Terra passes ,after the Sundance episode, to offset all of our household emmissions. It was easy to convince my wife since it was fresh on her mind after the show.

Not all the episodes are great, but certainly worth watching to get exposed to all kinds of gadgets and technology.

Cheers.

I actually think the show is very entertaining. It's an environmental show but also a relationship show which adds to the entertainment value. But besides all this, I'd just like to say how much respect I have for a man who is a genuine environmentalist. Ed Begley Jr. sells Begley's Best cleaning solution which is much better than windex. The reason I respect him so much is that he sells the stuff himself at Whole Foods, at farmer's markets. He doesn't need to get down and dirty but he does and that says a lot. Most celebrities do what they do for public relations, but Ed really walks the walk. He's a true environmental hero.

Never saw the show--probably never will. Never enjoyed Ed Begley Jr.'s acting so why should I believe any "green-ness" in him. I'd rather watch the old movies with Ed Begley Sr., who I thought was a tremendous actor and who I thought would have been sincere with "green-ness". If you see some of those movies with Sr. -- 12 Angry Men and Boomerang -- you might get an idea of what acting is all about. So if I disappoint you, I can't help it; but please find me some DVD's of Ed Begley Sr. movies. Thank you.

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