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Environmental “Ed”-ucation?

mspencers Icon Posted by Miranda Spencer

January 21st, 2007

The reality show is called Living with Ed, but might better be titled “Can This Marriage Be Saved?” HGTV’s new half-hour program, airing Sundays at 10 pm EST, follows actor Ed Begley, Jr. — Hollywood’s most dedicated environmentalist — as he pursues his green lifestyle with, and seemingly in spite of, his wife — actor Rachelle Carson.

What’s it like living with an eco-conscious guy? According to LWE’s website synopsis:

…Ed’s house…is far from the extravagant Hollywood style. If it’s not organic, recycled, energy efficient or solar powered, you can’t find it in their home. Rachelle, like most people, wants to help the earth, but Ed plans to take it to a whole new level. …

Ed also uses the sun’s energy to cook his food in a solar oven. This outdoor appliance uses the sun’s rays to heat food, getting up to 400 degrees. Ed even built a rolling stand for his solar oven, so he can move it throughout the backyard as the sun moves across the sky. Rachelle calls the oven the “bane of her existence” because it’s ugly and mysteriously ends up in different parts of her yard, blocking the few pretty plants she has.

The show’s drama, and comedy, is centered on Rachelle’s response to Ed’s “green” initiatives. Whether he’s powering up the toaster by pedaling a stationery bike, placing a red rainbarrel under the eaves to offset her long showers, or cleaning the solar panels atop their modestly-sized home, she’s balking (albeit affectionately). She appears to be tolerating — rather than embracing — his lifestyle, the way you would the quirks of a dotty old uncle. Sometimes Rachelle rebels outright, secretly meeting a real estate agent to tour a fancy new house in a “better” neighborhood. Ed reacts as strenuously as if she’d cheated on him with another man.

Green for Boys, Pink for Girls?

If Begley intended the show to help viewers learn how to green-up their own lives, and the benefits of doing so, it’s falling short of the mark.

For one thing, viewers won’t want to go green if it looks like a drag. The rather rumpled Ed — who seems never to comb his hair — spends alot of time on projects that many viewers probably don’t have time for, and there’s always Rachelle to remind us how ugly or weird or impractical they strike her. As she writes in her section of the show’s website, “Ed makes us use compact florescent bulbs, and some of them throw off the ugliest light. I had to search to find the brands and types that look good enough to have in my home.”

(So why are these two together? I’ll wager she’s more “into” the green lifestyle than the program lets on. Like all reality shows, it’s edited to emphasize maximum conflict. Begley himself has quipped that LWE is “Green Acres for the New Millennium.”)

But real or not, Ed and Rachelle’s differences — and the program’s website — play into gender stereotypes. He’s practical, handy, visionary. She’s more concerned about style, comfort, and conformity. Moreover, the show’s website divides the couple’s lifestyle tips by gender. Under the Rachelle tab you’ll find her take on Fashion, Hair and Skin Care, Diet, and Pilates and Fitness (most of which don’t even mention the green approach). The Ask Ed tab, meanwhile, covers Energy, Food, Clothing, House, Recycling, and Transportation from an environmentally conscious perspective. (“Replacing a refrigerator bought in 1990 with a newer, energy-efficient model would save enough energy to light the average household for nearly four months.”)

I suspect that Living with Ed’s producers wanted the show to appeal to both men and women, and assumed female viewers need a girlie-girl with whom to identify, lest they get bored by too much talk of biofuels and wall insulation.

The Future of Eco Reality Shows

I really wanted to like this series. I think I’d even enjoy living with Ed, who really “walks the walk” on environmentally sustainable lifestyles. I even kinda like Rachelle, who has a wry demeanor and spends most of her day in jeans. Season One is already in the can, but if there’s a Season Two, I’d like to see more about the rewards of the green lifestyle –-for both men and women. I’d also be interested to learn more about the measurable impact of Ed’s choices on the earth. For example, how many kilowatt hours of energy, and how many dollars, does he save by living “off the grid”?

Oh, well, maybe one of Hollywood’s female enviros, like Daryl Hannah, will start a green reality show. Better yet, forget the celebs. Showing only prominent greenies implies sustainability is for the rich. Whereas, it can actually reduce one’s cost of living in the long run. Why not a reality show about an ordinary couple — straight or gay– who live an eco-conscious life that’s rewarding, fun, mutually supportive, and replicable for the viewers at home?

As environmental “Ed”-ucation, Living with Ed, the TV show, gets an incomplete. Better to head for the website for recommendations on environmentally sensitive brands, and tips on home maintenance and gardening.

And if you want proof that aesthetics and environmentalism aren’t mutually exclusive, visit some of the many stylish eco-consumer sites: ecochick; ecofabulous; and especially IdealBite.

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