The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


TV Junkie

If you watched Inside Edition in the '90s, you may remember Rick Kirkham. The reporter was best known for a series of segments in which he took part in various daredevil behaviors like skydiving and bungee jumping. While he looked happy on screen, Kirkham's life was falling apart behind the scenes, thanks to a major drug addiction. Ever since he was a teenager, Kirkham filmed everything – and I mean everything - in his life. That footage was compiled by directors Michael Cain and Matt Radecki to make TV Junkie, an almost uncomfortably intimate look at his downward spiral. This is the best movie about addiction that I've ever seen.

A brief introductory montage gives us a quick snapshot of Kirkham's life, culminating with the gift of a movie camera during his teenage years. Coming from a broken home, he seemingly finds solace in documenting his own life. It is a form of expressing the things he can't put into words. The hobby continues as a young man, and we see footage of him partying, experimenting with drugs, and having sex with several women. Then he meets a pretty young woman name Tami, whom he marries. She gets pregnant with one son, then another. Inside Edition takes off, sending Kirkham all over the world, but away from his family. He dulls the loneliness with alcohol, cocaine, and crack. At times, he can barely do his job, so intoxicated is he. The addiction spirals out of control. Kirkham desperately struggles to hold on to his job and his family. Inside Edition fires him. Tami gets tired of the erratic, angry behavior, and worries about the negative effect on their children. Multiple trips to rehab fail. Then it gets even worse.

This is as true a portrait of addiction as you're ever going to see. Because Rick Kirkham filmed himself with such unflagging consistency, TV Junkie takes you right into the heart of darkness, allowing you to watch as he repeatedly sabotages himself. When people try to support him, he turns against them. When an opportunity for work arises, he blows it. You see how his addiction is triggered by things (such as a fight with Tami) that make him feel bad about himself. Even the job he claims to love is a trigger. One of the most painful moments comes as he's holed up in a hotel room while on assignment, smoking crack and feeling anguished that thinking about his family isn't enough to stop him. If you've ever known a hardcore addict, the cycle will look familiar. When Rick is sober, he feels guilty about what he's done, and that makes him go use, which, in turn, makes him do more things to feel guilty about.

By far, the most devastating scene in TV Junkie comes during a fight between Rick and Tami. Again, it's an intensely personal moment that he didn't feel comfortable having off-camera. He's half out of his mind from all the substances, she's fed up with the lying. In full view of his crying, worried toddler, Rick lets loose a stream of invective, filling the young child's head with worrisome thoughts (e.g. “Mommy's going to have the police take Daddy away to jail.”). He puts his kid through hell, just to provoke his wife. This moment is indicative of the panicked defensiveness that comes when an addict is backed into a corner. It's easier to lash out at others than to take stock of oneself.

All this may make the film sound depressing. In a way, I suppose it is, but I found TV Junkie more fascinating than anything. Through good or bad, Rick Kirkham kept his camera rolling. (He also participated in the making of this documentary, lest you think he's being exploited.) The details of addiction shown here are so raw, so personal, and so unflinchingly honest that you can't look away, even when the movie is at its most painful. TV Junkie should be shown in every Narcotics Anonymous meeting and in every rehab across the country. It's the ultimate cautionary tale, and it could save lives.

Did Rick Kirkham get a happy ending? Yes and no. Does any addict ever really get one? Sure, you can get sober, but addiction always comes with a cost. There are words that cannot be retracted, deeds than cannot be undone, innocent people who were harmed along the way. TV Junkie shows all of this more powerfully than I've ever seen any film, narrative or documentary, show it before.

TV Junkie is available now on iTunes, Amazon, Vudu, Playstation, Xbox, SundanceNow, Google, and YouTube.

( out of four)

TV Junkie is unrated but contains graphic depictions of drug use, sex/nudity, and language. The running time is 1 hour and 31 minutes.

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