Thursday, July 21, 2005

The only watchable reality show on TV!!

Morgan Spurlock's 30 Days

Morgan Spurlock literally "burst" into the scene last year with Super Size Me, a documentary that brought down McDonald's....or atleast tried to. In it, Spurlock tried to gauge the effect of fast food on his health by eating (and drinking) only from the McDonald's menu for 30 whole days, three meals a day! He also set a couple of other rules: one, he must have every item in the menu at least once in the 30 day period and two, must agree to "superisize" it, if asked by the McD's server.

Well, to cut a long story short, his body doesn't respond well to this assault: he gains lotsa weight, starts experiencing heart and liver problems (he is given a clean bill of health before he begins) and a reduced sex-drive. Indeed, this debut feature proved so successful that McD's removed "super size" meals from its menu just before the documentary's wide release. Incidentally, it was also nominated for a Best Documentary Oscar.

Now, Spurlock brings this idea to the small screen as (what else?) a reality show! 30 Days asks the question: What happens if you expose a person to a radically different environment than he is used to for a period of, well, thirty days? One of its first episodes, for example, made an orthodox, conservative Christian live with a gay room-mate in a gay community for a whole month. Another one had Morgan Spurlock and his girl friend live out the period on minimum wage!

The resulting drama, while not throwing in too many spectacular suprises, does make for very interesting viewing. It also doesn't feel too contrived either because people, who have spent a lifetime forming opinions, can be hardly expected to change them in a month. The orthodox Christian, taking that example again, considered gay people to be sinners, going by his interpretation of the Bible; he is still of the same mindset 30 days later, though there is a definite thaw in his behavior towards them as he gets to hear their concerns and realizes that their lifestyles are very similar to his.

The show's latest episode was especially gut-wrenching. A mother tries to stop her teenage daughter from binge drinking by going on a month long drinking spree herself. The mother's daily routine is reduced to shambles as she ends up feeling lethargic all the time, hardly ever has an appetite and in general, feels her health worsening: none of this, however, has any effect on the daughter who finds it funny that her mother is behaving like her other friends, sometimes having no memory whatsoever of what she did all night or "blacking out" as the daughter fondly calls it (something she doesn't seem to worry about). At the end of the 30 days, the mother gives up on her daughter and decides to focus instead on her 12-year old son, who is reduced to tears one day when his mother ignores him, heavily drunk.

All this is different from the numerous formulaic "reality" shows that seem heavily scripted and full of "fake" people; almost all of them seem to want to humiliate their contestants more than anything else, making them compete with each other in degrading contests while taking sadistic glee in capturing their disappointment and tears after they lose; of course, they also have this stupid rule where a contestant is "kicked out" at the end of each episode, something that was original in the very first "Survivor" but has been beaten to death since then.


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