Louis Theroux: Life on the Edge

Rating 7.8
Streamer BBC iPlayer
Seasons 1
Episodes 4 x 60 mins

Love him or loathe him, you can’t deny that Louis Theroux has carved out a very particular type of documentary filmmaking. His perfectly awkward probing makes his shows both hilarious and fascinating at once, and has helped him become a fan favourite, whose face is seen on signs at protests and T-shirts in Hipster bars.

He’s been on our screens for the last 25 years, and has made enough documentaries to keep you binge-watching all winter if you fancied a re-watch. But thankfully, Louis has helped us out by giving us a new four-part show showcasing the best moments of his weird and wonderful career. We start by going back to the late 90s and the first season of Weird Weekends, which focused on the theme of belief, and we can see that despite having a couple of decades of fame behind him, he really hasn’t changed his interviewing style at all. His deadpan face, stoic even when meeting bafflingly eccentric people, is heavily featured in the throwback clips of his best moments.

However, Life on the Edge is more than just a highlights reel. Between the clips, Louis is on camera from his attic, now fashioning a salt and pepper beard, but still as pokerfaced yet doe eyed as always. He roots through his personal archives, discussing artefacts collected whilst making the docs, and doing very of-the-moment zoom calls with his former interviewees.

It seems people were ready for a bit of Louis in their lives, as the retrospective has gone down well with the critics. Michael Hogan in The Telegraph says that despite the relaxed format, “an hour spent in Theroux’s company is rarely wasted.” We’d have to agree. He also appreciates Louis’ likeable charm, saying “it was oddly reassuring that otherwise he’s just like the rest of us.” Isn’t this the crux of his success? In The Independent, Ed Cumming praises the reflective format of viewing “old work through a different lens,” saying it’s “more thoughtful than you expect from a clips show.” The Guardian’s Lucy Mangan wasn’t so keen, commenting: “There were a lot of clips, and not much else. But what clips they were.” She did, however, criticise Theroux’s “disingenuousness,” which she says, “has always been a notable part of the Theroux brand – or a tool of his trade.”

If Louis is your bag, you’ll likely enjoy these best (or worst) moments, but calling it Life on the Edge is pushing it, even for the exceptionally wry Louis Theroux.

First shown September 2020.

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