Thursday, August 10, 2006

TV Review: 30 Days

Genre: Documentary Reality
Channel: FX
Season: 2 currently airing; 1 on DVD

Morgan Spurlock is best known as the guy who ate nothing but McDonald's for a month and made a movie documenting his resulting deteriorating health called Supersize Me. He applied the same idea that you can change you life and your views in just thirty days to the show called... well, "30 Days."

The show finds people of an extreme viewpoint and has them live with someone from the opposite side of the spectrum. It's akin to throwing someone into a cold pool, knowing the initial shock will wear off quickly and he'll be able to enjoy a nice swim he wouldn't otherwise if he'd just stood on the edge, dipping his toe in all afternoon.

Wow, how about that similie?

So the bible thumping homophobe goes to live in the Castro district for a month and the border patroling Minuteman lives with a family of eight illegal immigrants in a one bedroom apartment in East LA.

Sometimes, the show really makes a good point and you genuinely see change in the subject. For example, the Minuteman who was able to go to Mexico and see the "house" where his host family used to live--if you call three walls and a corrugated piece of metal for a roof a "house." By the end of that episode, he admitted he still opposed illegal immigration, but that he understood why most illegals come to America and said he'd no longer patrol the border but instead use his time to fight for better immigration laws.

More often than not, the show misses the mark for one of three reasons.

1. Ignorance. Since the show is trying to use average people, you don't get scholars who can really debate the two sides of an issue. Tonight's episode was about an Atheist who went to live with a very devoted Christian family. Unfortunately, the Christians couldn't understand what Atheism was--at one point a guy asked, "What did Jesus ever do that was so bad in your opinion?"--and the Atheist couldn't really explain herself nor her lack of beliefs. The show tried to make up for it by having some interesting facts (Atheists are the least trusted minority in the country, behind Muslims, recent immigrants, and gays) and some interviews with experts on both sides, but every time we went back to the dumbass host family and the braindead subject, I just had to pause the Tivo, get up, and walk around about a dozen times.

2. Stupid Plans. Somethings just can't be understood by doing them for thirty days. Last season, a mom who was concerned about her college-aged daughter's drinking decided to binge drink for a month. She went from having an occassional glass of wine to drinking four or more drinks a day. First off, this would be like me making a documentary about myself running a marathon, collapsing after two miles, and making the focus of the story that running is bad. You can't go from rarely drinking to drinking heavily every night. You have to ease into it. Further, if you're a wine drinker, you can't slam two shots of tequilla, down a beer, and finish your night with a screwdriver.

The flawed nature became apparent whenever she talked to her daughter about the experiment. The mom would go on and on about how awful she felt and how terrible this must be for her daughter, then she's tell her "I had two margaritas and two Budweisers" and her daughter would laugh hysterically at what a lightweight her mom was. It would be like me telling Duane Wade he shouldn't play basketball anymore because I played for fifteen minutes and my heart was pounding and I couldn't catch my breath.

Finally, the show really tried to drive home the negative impact of binge drinking by showing how the mom wasn't getting any housework done. There were shots of laundry piled up and a scene where she tried to vacuum, but instead just crashed on the couch and fell asleep. There were parts where her ten year old son cried as he watched his mom, who looked like she was dying, making herself a drink at one in the afternoon after just waking up. All these scenes did was prove that binge drinking is best left to people who don't have kids to watch and a household to maintain. People like college students!

3. Pointlessness. The third flaw is also probably the most common one: episodes that end with viewers asking, "What are we really supposed to get out of this?" All the episodes want to open viewers eyes to a world they may not otherwise see, but I pretty much knew Muslims are descriminated against by a lot of Americans. Maybe I'm just better informed than most people, but I was aware that there is a high level of poverty in India. Last season's episode about people living "off the grid," driving cars that run on recycled oil from fried food, building solar-powered huts, and not shampooing their hair, was mildly informative, but mainly left you thinking the hippies were weirdos and the subjects were whiners. In the end, even the subjects were hard pressed to find something "life-changing" to say about the experience. They were much more interested in being able to finally use hair dryers again.

Unfortunately, the key element that is missing episode in and episode out is the characters. In an attempt to get fairly average people, the subjects of the show and their hosts tend to have pretty bland personalities.

RECOMMENDED FOR: Shut-ins, people who don't know what's happening beyond three houses down the street.

NOT RECOMMENDED FOR: People who don't care about anything outside their particular worldview, people who are very interested and informed about things outside their personal worldview. Think of this show like a starter packet for learning about new things.

A/V RATING: 2/5. I still watch hoping to catch lightning in a bottle again, but can almost guarantee with a remaining lineup this season with titles like "New Age," "Pro-Life/Pro-Choice," and "Jail," I'm not holding my breath.


Blogger Sara J said...

The commercials for this show remind me too much of the commercials for all those wife-swapping shows. I have no idea why people volunteer to be on those swapping shows when they clearly have no ability to be open-minded.

Then again, I am close-minded enough that I'm not letting any woman take my place while I trade down for her husband.

8:08 AM  

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