30 Days (FX, Seasons 1 & 2 on DVD; Season 3 readily downloadable via iTunes and less legal means)
The timing of this is bad. I’ve spent the last month and a half beating my head at the keep of Morgan Spurlock’s 30 Days, an infuriatingly uneven documentary series.
Wham, wham, wham goes the brainpan. “Why do you sometimes frustrate me to death, 30 Days?” Wham. “Why do I sometimes think you’re the best doc show I’ve ever seen?” Wham, wham. “Reveal your secrets!”
Week Six I finally broke through (headfirst, mind), unlocking its mystery. Week Six was also the season finale.
So, no, this column isn’t newsworthy. It is, I believe, artworthy. There are lessons to be learned, so we’re plowing ahead.
The setup is the same week to week. A person — sometimes Spurlock, but most often not — is sent to live for 30 days in a totally alien and often hostile environment. The hope is that the people on either side of these sometimes vicious clashes of ideology (a hunter versus a PETA volunteer, gun owners versus anti-gun advocates, gay parents versus a homophobic Mormon woman, etc.) will come away with a less polarized, caricatured view of the opposition. When things go right, the show can be incredibly compelling. The “animals are here for our consumption and pleasure” hunter is nearly brought to tears when he sees the conditions under which calves become veal. More often, though, the sides are left deadlocked, agreeing to nothing more than continued animosity.
Super Size Me, the feature-length anti-junk- food missive that made Spurlock a pop-icon, was a morality tale of sorts about the destruction wrought by eating habits and chemicals and modern American life in general. 30 Days is more of a parlay between entrenched factions of moral wars. Anyone who’s talked politics (or religion, or philosophy) knows what a trudge such conversations
usually are can be. The success of 30 Days hinges on the willingness of one party to bridge the gap. When there is growth on one side or the other — when the gun-control advocate tearfully concedes the personal protection angle of the Second Amendment, say — 30 Days transcends issues and becomes riveting human drama. When the sides remain at loggerheads, though — as with the gay parents and the woman who hates the idea of gay parents — it’s like being seated between Rush Limbaugh and Al Franken at the cafeteria in hell. Unbearable. •
Forensic Files A friend says Forensic Files is her guiltiest pleasure. A few test episodes and I’ve found the guilt. Waiting on the pleasure. (TRU TV, rebroadcast in perpetuity)
The Cleaner Benjamin Bratt (OMG, so dreamy!) makes his return to television playing William Banks, a recovering drug addict and “extreme interventionist.” (A&E, Tuesdays, 10 pm)
Million Dollar Password Regis Philbin’s shtick always seemed like a Vegas act to me, which is why I bought him more on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire than I ever did on Live. He’s back in his element. (CBS, Sundays, 8 pm)