Friday, September 21, 2007

Kid Nation: Reserving Judgement

I almost forgot, but 20 minutes into show-time I remembered to turn on the first episode of Kid Nation.

For those who haven't heard any of the buzz, 40 kids come together to build a society in a desert ghost town. No adults; kids rule.

Several months ago, I'd blogged about my concerns with this concept: the age of the kids (as young as 8), and the way in which reality shows edit the footage to create a story arc. I felt that this would mean the balanced picture of kids getting left on the cutting room floor to make way for the casting call: bully, whiner, sweetheart, sneak. On the other hand, kids are so programmed and mediated these days, I felt there was something to say for a bit of free-ranging - for kids in the upper age range.

Well, opening night was not as terrible as I'd feared it would be, and the kids were far more appealing (for the most part) than I would have forecast. Mighty precocious, some of them, that's for sure. And they only seemed to be playing to the camera about half the time. Not bad.

But of course...

I was on the mark with 8 being a bit too young. The only kid who decided to leave town was an adorable little 8 year old who missed his mom and dad. At one point he says, "I'm too young for this." Right you are, Jimmy. Keep up that level of self-awareness, and the ability to withstand the pressure from the other kids urging you to stay, and you'll do just fine in life.

Jimmy's "crisis" also brought out the best in one of the "middle-aged" kids, a nice little 11 year old named Laurel who sweetly volunteered to stand in for Jimmy's missing mom. (Laurel is a freckle faced, red headed Irish kid from Medford (Meh-fah), Massachusetts, and I truly hope that she brought sun block protection with her.)

I have no idea whether the set is a real ghost town; a real old Hollywood ghost town; or a CBS purpose-built construct, but - if I got this right - a central conceit is that the town didn't make it because the town-folk didn't get along. So it's up to Our Gang to prove that the kids can make it right. Hmmmmm.

If Bonanza is a real ghost town, it didn't make it because the mine played out and there was no water, no arable land, no employment.... The Founding Fathers and/or the Greatest Generation couldn't have made this town "work" in any meaningful sense, and 40 kids - make that 39, now that Jimmy's high-tailed it home - aren't going to do it either. (Oh, what a mean-spirited quibbler I am.)

I have to say it was fun to see the kids enjoy their freedom, just running around (sort of) unsupervised. Kids running around, screaming, going crazy, jack-assing, making-pretend. It actually didn't look all that different than a typical scene of my childhood, other than that we didn't have cool cowboy hats and no one was filming us. (Cameras came out for important events like First Communions and your aunt's wedding.)

Mid-way through the episode, the kids got to decide whether to have seven more Porta-potties brought in (to add to the original), or whether to have a TV. The kids wisely chose the toilets, but it wasn't much of a choice. It would have been more interesting it the choice had been the toilets vs. a couple of flat-screen TVs, rather than between seven toilets and a TV that looks like it came out of the Rogers' family room, circa 1965. B&W, only.

At the end, the "town council" (four of the kids) got to vote on which member should be awarded a gold star for working the hardest. They made a well received pick, and the winner seemed very happy to have won.

Here's where the show veered off in what I think will prove to be an unsavory direction.

Rather than just leave it as an "atta girl," they announced that the gold star was worth $20K.

They then said that each week, a different kid would get to win the award.

Yes, this will no doubt bring out interesting, television worthy behavior - let the games begin - as we see just how nastily mercenary some of these kids will prove to be. But I think it would have been better on the kids if they'd thought they were competing for something that was a bit closer to "goodness is its own reward."

They could have sprung the $20K info on them at the end.

So, week one of Kid Nation went alright, but I'm reserving judgment on how this is going to play out for most/some of the kids. There's much that remains to be seen.

I will also say that, if this show had been one when I was a kid, I would have been super-glued to the set. I worshipped the Mouseketeer's, and the kids on Kid Nation are a lot less scripted (and made up) than Karen, Cubby, Doreen, Tommy, and Annette.

My sister Trish reports that her daughter Molly (nearly 11) really enjoyed the first show. I haven't checked in my other "target demographic" niece, Caroline, who's 10, but I'm guessing that she'll have watched and enjoyed it, too.

I have no idea how long Kid Nation is supposed to run, but I'll reserve my final judgement until the show's over - 0r at least further along in its season.


Chuck said...

I had a mild interest in this show but missed it, so thanks for your take on it. I agree about the gold stars.

Mary Schmidt said...

Actually, Bonanza is a movie set town here in NM. And, we had some post-show political trauma re child labor laws. Apparently, our state legislators passed a new law just after the show wrapped - which would have prevented the show filming.

The whole thing is just a little too "Lord of the Flies" for me. But then, reality show in general bother me.

Maureen Rogers said...

Mary - Thanks for the info on "Bonanza". Not surprised to find out it's a real fake town. And I'm sure that some ugly "Lord of the Flies" something or other will play out before the series ends.