Everyone gets a documentary nowadays. Whether it’s Apple TV+, Disney+, or Netflix, you can find several documentaries highlighting musicians. Naturally, some of these documentaries are more fascinating than others. Some music documentaries are put out to function as tell-all documentations of a tour or the construction of an album, others function as these musician origin stories that are obviously heavily constructed by the musician so that the right story is told from their point of view. The very best music documentaries get to find a way under the skin of their artist. On the surface, this Ed Sheeran docu-series may look exactly like one of the many unremarkable types of music documentaries. But once you dive right in and follow along, you are met with the kind of documentary that goes more than merely skin deep.
Ed and his lovely wife Cherry tell us in the first episode that the idea was perhaps just to make something that coincided with an album release or a tour, but that it became even more pressing for them to have it made once Cherry was diagnosed with cancer. Here was an opportunity to help to establish who they were together, and this documentary achieves exactly that. At its best, this documentary finds Ed Sheehan at his most private, as we get to see how he has grown as a person and a public figure (but also how Ed and Cherry’s relationship works), as well as how hard it has been for him in recent years with a true rollercoaster of emotions.
The second episode is all about how he lost his best friend Jamal Edwards of SB.TV-fame, and this is an episode that really shows you that it isn’t just an average music documentary just for fans. This is really a documentary about the person more than it is about the musician, and Ed Sheeran has allowed us to get more than just glimpses into the particulars that make up his complicated headspace due to the chaos of one tumultuous February that hit him like a tsunami.
Of course, yes, there are parts of the documentary that zoom in on how he made his career, and how he was as a kid (think his music video for “Photograph”), and there are several shots of him performing while on tour. But the real meat of the documentary is the moments we get to find out who he really is — when we find out what parts of his life make up his essentials, what moments he has had to overcome, and how he tries to overcome them day by day. In these moments it is a triumphant documentary in that the behind-the-stage scenes are worthwhile. These revealing scenes speak to themes such as mental health, loneliness, and loss that run throughout this documentary, which also ponders how this songwriting ‘robot’ might handle having to actually settle down and stop touring. This goes far deeper than your average musician’s documentary. Fans will be happy to see more of him, and those that just want a peak behind the curtain will find out how down-to-earth he appears to be. And I suspect he could gain a lot of new fans if those that aren’t yet hooked to his mathematics-titled albums dare to check this out.
The four episodes are titled “Love,” “Loss,” “Focus,” and “Release,” and while it is quite obvious what the first two episodes will be about (i.e. him and Cherry and then the loss of Jamal). I was worried that episodes three and four would only be about songwriting and an album release respectively, but they manage to be more than just that. As mentioned, the themes run throughout the docuseries, and we see him struggle to communicate his feelings on-stage for the first time, just as we see him do these tributes for the friend that he lost. I do think it is a missed opportunity to really only mention the lawsuits that he has been struck by, but I guess that might’ve been for legal reasons.
Cynics will point out how much control artists may have over the direction of these music documentaries, and there is certainly a relative amount of fat that could be trimmed (e.g. scenes of him touring, generic, trope-heavy music doc stuff). But I still think it is remarkable just how far under the skin we get to be here. Regular music documentaries can sometimes feel like the artist just gets to play the hits as a piece of promotion and then exits the building, but while this one does play some hits, we are allowed much more than just that. I think there is a phenomenal 90-minute music documentary here if you were to strip the touring performances and the more generic content from it, but even as it is, it is quite good precisely because it allows us to see raw moments in which the titular artist is vulnerable and honest.
– Review Written by Jeffrey Rex Bertelsen.