Thursday, July 7, 2005

TV: '30 Days'

If you've got the FX Network on cable, give the dial a spin tonight and check out Morgan Spurlock's reality TV series "30 Days" if you haven't. It's one of the most rewarding shows on TV right now, based on the two episodes I've seen, and a rare gem among the slapdash reality TV genre. It's a simple premise, coming from the "Super Size Me" director who notoriously lived on McDonald's food for one month and lived (barely) to talk about it. For his TV series, Spurlock takes that premise and expands it - for 30 days, subjects will live a lifestyle very different from what they're used to. In last week's episode, a diehard West Virginia Christian was transplanted to Michigan to live in a devout Muslim community and live and pray by Muslim law. The results were thoughtful, funny and overwhelmingly open-minded.

Spurlock himself was the guinea pig in the first episode, where he and his fiancee moved to Ohio to work and live on the national minimum wage - still a shameful $5.15 an hour - and learning just how impossible that really is. It was a great show - I'm no millionaire (welcome to journalism), yet even I'm making a few times minimum wage by now. Can you imagine surviving on $5 an hour, let alone doing it with kids? Spurlock is an old-fashioned liberal, Michael Moore in a gentler, more genial form. He's an appealingly easygoing host who isn't too preachy (he even has a nifty blog).

Tonight's episode, "Straight/Gay," involves a very homophobic straight man who moves into San Francisco's gay neighborhood, The Castro. If it's like the episodes before it, it'll be fascinating TV. Too often, reality shows appeal to the lowest common denominator, reveling in people at their worst and ugly behavior (Paris Hilton, I'm looking at you). "30 Days" works because at its heart, it's an optimistic show that wants to teach us a little something about worlds outside our direct experience. Check it out.

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