I Saw the TV Glow

I Saw the TV Glow Movie Review

“I Saw the TV Glow” is a cross between a ‘Twilight Zone’ type of story with late-teen angst pity party. If you felt that you did not belong in this world, or even in your own body, would you be a little bit anxious and nervous? Then your only friend convinces you that you are the alternate version of a character from TV show- but all that you see is static…


It is back in 1996, and younger Owen (played by Ian Foreman) is in the seventh grade. He is at the high school (Void High School — or VHS) with his mother on election day. His mother Brenda (played by Danielle Deadwyler) is in the voting booth, while Owen wanders away. He chances to see a much older girl — a ninth-grader. Her name is Maddy (played by Brigette Lundy-Paine). She is a moody loner, who is reading a book.


The book is an episode guide for a young adult TV series called ‘The Pink Opaque’. It is about two girls who are psychic sensitive and are connected. They are fighting against different monsters each week. It airs late on Saturday, way past Owen’s bedtime. His mother Brenda, and his father Frank (played by Fred Durst) would not allow anything like this. So Maddy asks if Owen wants to come over to watch the show at her house. If Owen lies to his parents about staying over a different friend’s house — they will never know.


Owen is drawn into the TV show with all of the elaborate back-story and lore. The main characters are Isabel (played by Helena Howard) and Tara (played by Lindsey Jordan) and these two have only met once — in the pilot episode. They find they have a paranormal psychic bond. They fight against all types of demons and monsters. The baddies are under the control of a major evil character — Mr. Melancholy. Owen spends many of his weekends staying over at Maddy’s house, getting into the show.


Maddy is able to record the episodes of ‘The Pink Opaque’ — onto a VHS tape, of course. She leaves these for Owen at the high school. It is a few years later, and now an older version of Owen (played by Justice Smith) is up to speed on the show.  He meets with Maddy at the high school, where she admits she likes girls. Well — that’s OK, says Owen. I like… TV. Owen would long for the comfort of going over to Maddy’s house again, just because he felt connected to the show. And to her…


But the show is cancelled after five seasons. Maddy is sad about the outcome, and Owen is devastated. Owen’s mother passes away, and he is left with his judgmental father – Frank. Maddy seems to have disappeared — left town without a trace. All that Owen has are the old VHS copies of the show that Maddy had taped for him. He gets a job to support himself, working at the local movie theater.


About ten years later, Maddy shows up once again. Maddy and Owen get over to a bar to talk about Maddy’s discoveries. She tells Owen that she never felt at home in her house, in her world, in her own body. She ran off to discover that she is linked to the TV show character of Tara.


Now that the TV show has been cancelled – she has become Tara. And she believes that Owen will need to do the same. He is actually the wrong person in his body – he is tied to the TV show character of Isabel. Later, in an unusual place, Maddy gives Owen all the details about how she was able to leave ‘Maddy’ behind and let Tara take over.


Owen is still uncomfortable with who and where he is, and some of this might explain why he is so awkward. If he really should be ‘Isabel’, then maybe his life would be very different. But part of this ‘change over’ means getting buried alive. Owen thinks he might draw the line at that little aspect of the switch to becoming ‘Isabel’.


Owen finds that he is totally frustrated with being who he is. He wishes he could be someone from a TV show, where monster-of-the-week can always be defeated. But the price that Maddy says he would need to pay is just too steep. To leave ‘Owen’ behind, he would have to be buried in the ground and let ‘Isabel’ find her way out. Owen balks — and then he walks.


Owen’s mother is gone, and he father died several years after that. He never moved anywhere or left the town where he grew up. He thinks he does not have the sense of adventure and bravery — not in the same way that Maddy does. “The Pick Opaque” now shows up on streaming.


Owen throws out all the old VHS tapes that Maddy had made. The show is so different from what he remembered. Maybe his memories of his life as ‘Owen’ are fading, just as thoughts of ‘Isabel’ are fading.


After many more years, Owen lives alone and detached. Maddy left and he never saw her again. He lives at the same place, in his parent’s old house. He works at a ‘Fun Center’, because the local movie theater closed down. He has the same co-workers as before. Owen has no friends, and he has no aspirations. He has a longing to go back, to go back and live his life as if the ‘The Pink Opaque’ was real. Maybe it was…



“I Saw the TV Glow” is good at representing the awkwardness of teenage years (and then even much older). It nails the feeling of awfulness of not being OK with yourself. Some people are saying this is supposed to represent the difficulties of being ‘tran’ in this world. Maybe that is the case, but there is a severe lack of a story and not much of a point to all that happens.


At some points, the photography is stunning, and the bright neon color scheme makes everything ‘glow’. Maybe that is the point, making this something to look at as opposed to having a clear story objective. Brigette Lundy-Paine (Maddy) has a couple of scenes that are fantastic, revealing an inner anger and spirit. Justice Smith (Owen) is pretty much a blank page – but that is mostly due to the way the character was written.


There is a lot of promise to the concept of a person being the living manifestation of a character on a popular TV show. There never is a way to make this story really click and come alive. There are too many gimmicks and visual nods to better movies (“Poltergeist” and others). There are too many ‘fade to blank, and stay there’ moments.


“I Saw the TV Glow” tries to take a few chances to do something fresh and unique. But should you see this one ‘coming up next’, be sure to click the remote to another channel.


I Saw the TV Glow

Written and Directed by: Jane Schoenbrun
Starring: Justice Smith, Brigette Lundy-Paine, Ian Foreman, Fred Durst, Danielle Deadwyler, Lindsey Jordan, Helena Howard
Cinematography: Eric K. Yue
Edited by: Sofi Marshall
Music by: Alex G
Distributed by: A24
Release date: May 17, 2024
Length: 100 minutes
MPAA rating: PG-13 for violent content, some sexual material, thematic elements and teen smoking.
Genre: Psychodrama



tmc.io contributor: JMcNaughton tmc

I think movies need to be shared and enjoyed by as many people as possible! Going to a movie theater is a group experience, even if you go in there alone. When the lights go dark and movie begins, you can participate in a special kind of magic. You can be entertained, or enlightened. But you are never bored. Or at least, let's hope not. Try reading the reviews first.. maybe that will help!

What's your take?

Free movie screenings and more.
Watch movies with friends.


No comments yet