BBC documentarian Louis Theroux has been teeing up for a project like this ever since his first appearance on the vaguely forgotten Michael Moore project, TV Nation. Theroux fluttered the idea of an autobiographical piece with his excellent non-fiction effort, Gotta Get Theroux This, but a visualisation of his career thus far was always going to happen. It was inevitable, and as he described in his latest book, Theroux the Keyhole, a career retrospective was necessary and put on the front burner to fill holes within the BBC schedule during the coronavirus pandemic. That it does, it certainly feels a bit like filler as Theroux stretches his life’s work to a four-part documentary miniseries.
It takes the meta-approach, an acknowledgement and a brief flutter of conversation about his home life followed by a few people he reconnects with that he featured in one of his documentaries at some point in his career. That is not at all a bad system, but soon tires of the self-made formation. The picture package reaches for interviews with topics gone by, and the catch-up is never all that grand or surprising. His former subjects from the days of Weird Weekends are tracked down and old ground is covered, not without some success. Interviews with Covid-sceptics, former porn stars and recovering addicts are interesting but the probing is done without that character and charm Theroux would often be associated with.
Hard it may be to do that online and alone over Zoom, it is still a particularly effective line of questioning and way of interviewing. Theroux was thrown back into the mainstream sphere with his connections to Joe Exotic and The Tiger King, and following that up with some retrospective style is absent here, probably because Shooting Joe Exotic was apparently warranting a feature-length release. Whether it works or not is likely up to those that want to spend more and more time with Theroux. The audience is there for him and likely not for this career retrospective which is a tad light on real reflection and more observant of the interpersonal skills Theroux has as both a documentarian and as a journalist. Neither are bad to include and be associated with, but Louis Theroux: Life on the Edge does little to explain why it is showing this beyond a slim schedule crying out for an anniversary package.
But more Theroux content is always a quality time. Seeing him sift through his work and mull over the unanswered questions while he crouches down in an attic looking for boxes of old manuscripts is an effective visualisation for just how long Theroux has been plugging away at this line of work. Audiences are given scope to how much Theroux has managed throughout his career, but trying to highlight that with brief flutters of some strained interviews with old subjects was not the way to go. Theroux strains all he can out of a successful format he had adapted in his first book, The Call of the Weird, where he revisited his old cases and subjects, but the benefit there is the flourish of the written word. Here, the symptomatic anxiety of the interviewer that lends itself so well to earlier documentaries feels more like Theroux is working through the burden of an anniversary piece.