&E;’s recent move towards reality programming has been a largely unsuccessful one. Dog The Bounty Hunter, what seems to be the channel’s new flagship show, is just Cops with a weirdly self-actualizing police officer and The First 48 is simply Criminal Intent without Vincent D’Onofrio’s overacting. Growing Up Gotti? Don’t get me started. The problem that A&E; seems to have is that they can only line up the character or the story, but never both at the same time. The confrontational and compelling new show Intervention is its first unqualified success.
The premise is simple: In each episode, the series presents two addicts trying to cope with addiction and their friends and families’ struggles to find them help. But this isn’t network TV—the subjects are shown in the most desperate throes of addiction. (During one show, the camera crew followed a subject as they schemed to get another fix, shot up, and then nodded off against a bathroom mirror.) Whereas most competitive reality programs show the desperation of the middle class to humiliate themselves for money, Intervention shows the desperation of an addict as they humiliate themselves for control and comfort. To a viewer, it’s uncomfortably therapeutic. Sure, it’s awful to see the daily struggle of someone going through unimaginable pain and suffering, but it’s good to know that things can be so much worse.
Intervention serves an important purpose: viewers know about drug addiction and eating disorders. But they’re not a part of most of our everyday lives. These are unspoken ailments in society and they go completely unseen to the majority of the country. So, when halfway through each hour-long show the family of the addict meets with an intervention specialist, the viewer can identify with the questions being asked and the advice being given. What happened? You’ve been enabling the addict. What can we do? Step in and convince them to get treatment.
But can it work (for the audience)? Do the people watching Intervention get much more out of it than simple schadenfreude? This is the step in the cycle of addiction that the show is trying to change. Obviously, one can’t help but feel completely removed from the process through watching it on television. When one watches couples flip cars on Fear Factor, the response is that they brought that upon themselves by signing up for it in the first place.
And this may be the show’s one fault: What Intervention doesn’t do, because of its entertainment-based format, is examine the scientific basis of addiction, which would go towards proving that the people on the show didn’t sign up for their life and their problem. Without this aspect, it seems easy to place the blame on the addicts portrayed on the show. Each episode contains a montage of photographs of the addict as a child, featuring a voiceover by a family member explaining that the addict was a normal, happy child, but then faced some sort of trauma that turned him or her to use drugs. Addiction is never this simple, but to an audience seeking easy answers, it’s enough. If Intervention has done its job, you won’t be able to swallow those answers quite as easily anymore.
By: George Jenkins
Published on: 2006-05-03