"The unexamined life is not worth living." – Socrates
Playing in the Documentary section of Sundance, TV Junkie is a portrait of Rick Kirkham, whose chance teen placing as a dancer on American Bandstand and a 14th Birthday gift of a movie camera led to a lifelong interest in television and video. Kirkham wound up going from positions in smaller markets to a job as a crime beat TV reporter in Las Vegas to, eventually, an on-air position as a reporter – if, to be blunt, you can call it that – for TV's Inside Edition, engaging in wacky stunts like motorcycle jumps, Harley rides, being shot out of a cannon and race-car antics. Along the way, he was regularly setting up his camera to record a video diary. He was also smoking crack.
Co-directed by Michael Cain and Matt Radecki, TV Junkie is made solely from Kirkham's diary entries, self-recorded footage and TV broadcast footage, with a smattering of still photos along the way. And it might just be me – I do TV as part of my job, I've done TV as part of my job – but I found it fascinating. Not necessarily because of Kirkham – he seems like a joke of a 'journalist,' and the personal footage hardly presents him in the best possible light – but simply because of how it captures the poisonous neurotic narcissism of a man committing a man committing what he himself calls "slow-motion suicide." Kirkham and his girlfriend Tammy get pregnant, get married, have kids – and all the while he's falling on and off the wagon, hating himself and smoking crack and hating himself even more for doing so.
But there's something hypnotic about Kirkham's diaries and his story: Watching his diary entries throughout a 48-hour long crack binge is terrifying, as he goes from euphoria to despair and back to the kind of 'fun' that looks like no fun at all as he explains that now "I know how horrible drugs are." And Kirkham's a natural TV presence – all-American good looks, baritone voice, easy manner – but his video diaries have this creepy sort of disconnect to them, as if he weren't living the feelings he relates but instead just reading them off a teleprompter. His speaking is flawless, but the speaker is flawed, and that disconnect is part of why you can't stop looking at his toxic, self-loathing Memorex memoirs.
TV Junkie is a chronicle of a man who recorded everything for future posterity but seemed incapable of having those confessions change his present, who seemed unable to understand the difference between watching and seeing. The unexamined life is not worth living, but is the over-examined life truly lived? TV Junkie may not resonate with everyone – but if you've ever been out with friends and wondering how, exactly, you were going to re-translate the night for your next posting on Myspace.com, TV Junkie 's Kirkham might have something to say to you as he spills his soul onto the tape.
Others on TV Junkie: Writing at Film Threat, Sally Foster described it as "an unbelievably candid glimpse into the contradictions of cocaine addiction."