The Most Interesting Show On Television This Summer 2

There is a massive glut of bad reality shows on television this summer, and it’s enough to drive anyone into actually leaving the house and/or getting a life.

There’s one show, however, that’s utterly fascinating. That show is 30 Days. I liked the first season last year, and this year, I think they’ve kept the elements that work and gotten rid of most of the elements that didn’t.

The show is produced by Morgan Spurlock of Super Size Me fame, and it takes his basic concept from that Documentary (spend 30 days doing something out of the ordinary, follow the results with a camera) and turns it into riveting television.

Most of the storylines are fish-out-of-water: A Minuteman lives with a family of illegal immigrants. An athiest lives with an evangelical family. A man whose job was outsourced to India…goes to India.

It’s obvious that these situations are set up to get the maximum conflict, but to the producers’ credit, they focus on what lessons these people take away from their experience instead of the shouting conflicts themselves.

(If the “jump” link isn’t working here, just click the link with the time to read the rest of this)

Not that there isn’t shouting. The episode with the Minuteman in particular is a good example of how the show takes the shouting that is typical of reality shows and does something different.

The Minuteman they picked is atypical: He’s an immigrant, a man who was born in Cuba and whose father’s job with an American company allowed him and his family to immigrate legally right after the revolution.

It’s an interesting pick, both because he speaks fluent Spanish and thus can communicate with the family on a level that most of those in the movement to seal the Southern border could never hope to, and because he seems willfully ignorant of how hard it is to get into this country legally right now.

His seething resentment towards those who enter the country illegally pours off the screen. Although he likes the individuals in the family he’s living with, when he gets off on an angry rant about illegal immigration, the footage of him yelling at the people he’s trying to converse with is intercut with interviews of the family talking about how even the shape of his face changed when he got that angry.

About halfway through the episode, the father of the family suggests that the Minuteman go down to the small town in central Mexico the family immigrated from, where his brother still lives.

I have to admit, the suggestion sounded like a producer plant, as up to that point no matter what happened, the Minuteman was still spewing the party line of “They’re takin’ our joooobs!

However, the effectiveness of the suggestion, no matter whose idea, on the Minuteman’s opinions was undeniable.

After seeing the abject squalor that the family used to live in (a tiny, collapsed shack with an obviously diseased well out back as their only source of water), he almost immediately dropped his contention that Mexicans are coming to America to steal American jobs.

In the space of a couple of days, spending time with the brother in Mexico, you can see something inside him snap as he realizes that nobody wants to live like this. Nobody wants to raise their kids in a place like this.

At the end of the episode, he even says that he will stop patrolling the border and focus on improving conditions in Mexico as a way to cutrail illegal immigration.

It may strike some people as liberal hoo-ha, out to change the minds of Conservative America. I don’t think those people are necessarily wrong, but I think this show goes about it in a much more fascinating way than the Michael Moore “I WILL BEAT YOU OVER THE HEAD WITH MY POINT UNTIL YOU AGREE WITH ME!” technique that’s so in vogue in liberal documentary-making right now.

That said, it’s not a show without its quirks. Spurlock’s narration and the accompanying animated illustrations can be grating, and there are times where the narration says “[Subject] decided to…” when it’s clear the producers asked them to do whatever (this was particuarly obvious in last season’s episode where the fundamentalist Christian spent time living as a Muslim).

The latter is more a quibble with the way documentary/reality shows are set up, but in a show that professes to be free of reality strictures, it’s a glaring throwback.

In the end, I think this is a show that doesn’t get nearly enough credit for tackling serious issues from a relatively sober viewpoint, and for getting individuals to actually look seriously at their beliefs instead of unthinkingly spouting back the party line.

2 thoughts on “The Most Interesting Show On Television This Summer

  1. Reply km Aug 4,2006 2:53 am

    i agree. i liked this show last season, but as you said i hated part of the ‘maximum conflict.’ i know there’s inherent conflict, but only if there’s a lesson really learned. that is one thing i liked about the ep with the christian spending time with the muslim family…when he had to go around asking people to sign a petition to prevent racial profiling–effective. but, like you said, “he decided to…” like the homophobe who lived with the guy in SF and went to the bar and got drunk and started fighting. that bothered me. no lesson learned. ya know? just ‘reality tv.’

  2. Reply Ellen Aug 4,2006 4:16 am

    I think one of the things the Homophobe Living With The Homo episode made clear is how important the casting is for these episodes. In that episode, the two men had almost nothing in common, and it was almost impossible for them to relate on any issue.

    Part of what’s been effective in this season is they take people who, while at wildly different ends of the spectrum of whatever issue is being focused on, have several things very strongly in common. When the subjects begin to realize how easily their lots in life could be switched, they take stock of what’s going on a lot more seriously.

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