It takes a ghost town

I’m a sucker for utopian sentiment. I like to believe that if we work hard enough, human societies are perfectible. It’s a nice buffer against reality.

I’m also a “Greatest-Love-of-All”-ist. The children are our future, that lot. It’s easy on the conscience (and the work load) to be convinced — as my parents’ generation fades and I stagger toward 30 — that young, idealistic kids will soon start working to make the world (specifically, my life) better than it’s ever been.

So, obviously, I’ve been dying to see Kid Nation, which drops 40 kids in a ghost town and asks them to create a society. They have to navigate a crude class system and compete in occasional group challenges to decide who lands in which strata. Beyond those few strictures, though, the young’ns are free to succeed or fail however they choose.

Perhaps more than anything, I’m a sucker for dangerous, irresponsible pseudo-sociology (Stanford prison experiment, y’all!). At the least, Kid Nation seemed capable of getting real Lord of the Flies, real quick.

Things haven’t gotten dire yet, though there are problems. Before filming, a four-member town council was chosen by the producers. Each child councilperson is either smart and geeky or loud and overbearing — total student-government types — but they seem used to obtaining their authority from teachers. None of them can control a crowd, either with rhetoric or through intimidation.

Eleven-year-old Mike seems especially used to parliamentary decorum and expects the town to fall in lockstep behind him. That’s problematic for the droogish Greg. The Neanderthal-browed 15-year-old hates authority and resents younger kids. He makes a point of showing up Mike at every turn (not necessarily a bad thing for the youngster’s disproportionate ego), to the point of getting physical. With no justice system, the town is totally unequipped for rogue violence. If he wanted to, Greg and his equally meatheaded homie Blaine could set up a military junta. I wish they would, for variety’s sake.

There is, though, one leader among the plebians — a real Bobby Kennedy type. Twice, when the council seemed on the brink of losing control, it was a non-councilmember who restored order. “You do realize,” said the mop-headed Michael, “you’re not just representing yourselves. This is to prove kids of all ages … can work together cooperatively and without greed …”

The town immediately fell into line. Michael’s played a small role so far, but if anyone’s going to change the world (as CBS promises), it’ll be him. •

See also

Kitchen Nightmares Gordon Ramsey steps away from the reality-contest genre and into reality-rescues. Kitchen Nightmares is What Not to Wear for food snobs — and almost as annoying. (Fox, Wednesdays, 9 pm)

Survivor: China How can you tell Survivor’s getting stale? They’re emphasizing each contestant’s weird occupations. Wake me for Survivor: North Korea. (CBS, Thursdays, 8 pm)

The Big Bang Three’s Company backward, this trite geek series scores as the first program of the season I’m nominating for my own reality TV show: Cat Chase, in which irredeemably bad sitcom actors are locked in a coliseum and told to avoid dozens of starving lions. (CBS, Mondays, 8:30 pm)


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