Friday, January 11, 2008

"You Can't Wear Blue in Knuckle Beach, Which is Hard, Because Jeans Go With Everything..."

Kid Nation Season Finale Running Diary (Aired: December 9th, 2007)

Coming at you live from my new laptop (which is awesome) and using Vista (which is, um, idiosyncratic). This aired over a month ago, but I was away, so it's only coming online now. Here you go, Robbie.

Comments for the uninitiated--which, if the Nielsen ratings are any indication, comprises nearly everyone--in blue.
8:01: The pre-credit teaser suggests that there will be big surprises tonight. My prediction? Gold stars for everyone or gold stars for town council. A much less likely surprise: an impromptu and controversial Calvin Klein shoot.

For the uninitiated, Kid Nation makes a very big deal about giving out a real* gold star--worth $20,000--at the end of each episode to a deserving child (or, more often, to the child with the most convincing sob story). What I discovered quite recently is that all kids received $5,000 for appearing on the show (even, presumably, little Jimmy, the eight-year old from New Hampshire who fucked off after a mere 96 hours, netting $1,250 a day in the process).

Another interesting tidbit: the show was filmed during the school year, so all the kids had to get a month off in order to participate. What the fuck, CBS? I won't lie, I'm a big fan of the show, but is it not enough that you've probably run afoul of any number of child labour laws? Did you really have to run the show during the school year? July was too jampacked for your filmcrew? This rankles me.

* - really? At $887.50 an ounce, a $20,000 gold star would weigh slightly less than a pound and a half. Meanwhile, the star that's handed out is about the size of four dinner plates stacked together, yet is easily liftable by even the smallest recipients. If it is real gold, there's no way it weighs less than 5 kg (also: if that's true, George Mitchell may want to investigate Bonanza City.)

8:04: The kids seem positively stunned that their job board (where the kids' teams are broken down into four classes: upper, merchant, cooks, and labourers) is on fire. Gee, I wonder how that happened? Some of them are officially spazing out. Relax you guys, I don't recall dirt being especially flammable.

8:09: That crisis averted, we move on to the show's host (the forgettable but entirely harmless Jonathan Karsh, who apparently doesn't even merit his own in-show chyron--I had to look his name up--but is actually an accomplished indie director) burning the town journal. The journal was consulted at the start of every episode by the Town Council--aka the four kids, one from each team, who acted as the local government--the conceit being that it contains the recorded thoughts of the founders of Bonanza City way back in, I think, the 1860s. Invariably, the week's entry outlines the theme of the current episode. It's also fairly clear that the producers are pretty much making it up as they go along, as not two minutes after many kids observed that the city was starting to resemble a landfill site, the town council read an entry saying "garbage was a big problem for us" and so forth...What's not entirely clear to me is if the kids think the journal is real. I'm leaning towards no, but if the answer is yes: they may want to carbon date that ink. Did they make a copy of it first? Shouldn't they have? Lesson learned: reading is stupid, kids. (History, too.)

8:10: ...and it's already Lord of the Flies. Great. Kids raiding stores, practically shoveling candy into their mouths (including a comically oversized swirly lolly pop--not unlike the one Kramer had in the backwards episode of Seinfeld--that is very probably a prop and thus inedible--that kid is going to be extremely disappointed.)

8:12: a little mini-rang ("this is just sickening. Sickening") from Zach, or, as I like to call him "the oldest 10 year old ever." Dude, it's a fucking set, why don't you live a little, man?

As is custom on the show, near the end of each episode, each Bonanza resident comes in to tell the Town Council who they think deserves the gold star. Most of the kids are good-natured about it and will nominate a hard-working peer, but some others insist on subverting the process and often see fit to nominate themselves, which drives me crazy. (Mostly because I think it's redundant. Obviously, every child would like to win the star for him or herself, but it would be pretty damn boring if the nominating segment resulted in each of the 40 participants receiving one vote. A much better strategy to me always seemed to be to nominate one of the Town Council members--everyone loves to be flattered!--but, as far as I know, this has never happened.) Anyway, Zach is one such kid, having put himself on the block at least twice. Last week, in pleading his case, Zach got a little teary and during (but mostly after) his speech, a couple of the older kids on council (notably Greg: the blue team's 15-year old bully who might be on steroids) questioned Zach's sincerity (which seems to have predicted the events in New Hampshire roughly a month later). Anyway, Zach left, then stomped around outside for a couple of minutes muttering under his breath about the council, then, in an unprecedented move, returned to the nomination room and proceeded to lose his shit in front of council, essentially calling them insensitive jerks. Now, in Zach's defense, Greg (whose improbable last name is actually "Pheasant") is a two-faced shit, but that doesn't excuse his meltdown. Was it great TV? No doubt, but I think it endeared Zach to few people.

Anyway, it's pretty clear the kids are hellbent on destroying the city. As George would say, "it's like Thunderdome!"

8:13: ...but they still get served gruel for dinner in the mess hall? Kids, THERE ARE NO RULES. Order yourselves some pizza. Honestly...

8:14: Karsh (the host), introduces the non-showdown (in showdowns, the team that finishes first gets the best job, upper class, the team that finishes second gets the second best job, merchants, and so on--those jobs determine your salary and are changed roughly every four days, i.e. after the next showdown) reward challenge for this week.

8:15: and the reward challenge out the last gold star? The fuck? Karsh polls the masses while Council decides. Someone nominates ADHD Mike from the red team. Whatever. Laurel (whom, Carrie and I both agree, has the most chapped--chaptest?--lips of any living person we've ever seen), inexplicably, think Sophia should get ANOTHER gold star, despite having done virtually nothing from winning her first star weeks ago. For Christ sake, Laurel, there are ACTUAL POOR CHILDREN (they're the ones that perk up when they see the gruel) on this show! Purchase a clue.

8:16: DK (insert Nintendo joke here) wants to give everyone a star. He's overcome with emotion. Come on, DK. That's why they pay you the big bucks to be on Town Council: to make these tough decisions. (Wait...)

8:20: And, in an upset, sucky baby Zach--who not three days ago accused Council, collectively, of being unfeeling martinets...albeit not in those words precisely--ends up winning the gold star, then proceeds to cry AGAIN (Rob must be loving this episode). In an even more surprising turn, Carrie, who is a mortal lock to laugh uproariously at crying children (see my LLWS running diary from the summer), is actually happy he won. Awww. I suppose I am too. He has worked pretty hard.

On that note, onto the:

6 Most Awkward Kid Nation Moments:

6. The Arcade Fiasco: unequivocally providing the answer to the question "hey, what would happen if we gave the kids the choice between something totally lame [a library] and a kick ass arcade complete with DDR terminals? Would the kids still play in (and around) the dirt, forage for food, and maintain the drinking water supply or simply play video games until they nearly died of starvation?" Nothing undermined the conceit of the show more (or made it more boring) than this. Oddly, it took Sophia--who wasn't on the Town Council--stepping in and saying "hey, maybe we should shut this whole thing down" before the arcade was boarded up.

5. Crygate:
previously discussed.

4. Anjay blocking Taylor from leaving the cabin: Here's what you can't have on show comprised entirely of children under the age of 16: an older boy preventing a younger girl--granted: a complete bitch of a younger girl--from leaving a room that she wishes to leave. It only lasted about 15 seconds on screen, but my oh my was it uncomfortable.

3. Anytime anyone called home (after getting a gold star): Suspiciously, the parents just never seemed excited enough, even though, so we're told, this was the only time they got to talk to their child for nearly seven weeks. This leads me to believe that the kids--off-camera--were in regular contact with their parents. Either that or the parents were feeling residual guilt for having already spent their kids' $5,000 ("sweetie, I totally thought you were kidding about going to college...").

2. The Stand-up Comedy stylings of Olivia: Best known for her irrational and unrelenting hatred of poor Anjay (which apparently stems from her running and losing against him when he was up for re-election on Day 16), Olivia delivered an excruciating set during the talent show, which can most charitably be described as a more wooden version of Cliff Clavin's stand-up act, but with more raunch (kidding about that last part.) Yet, somehow, the kids ate it up. (I didn't realize that four minutes of anti-Anjay behaviour was enough to sustain a career.) This was never properly explained to me (she was painfully unfunny) and it's why I demand that there be a Hills-like Kid Nation aftershow should it return for a second season.

1. Bible Camp: As discussed in an earlier entry, this occurred back on Day 12, when the kids--clearly tripping on shrooms--chose a collection of religious texts over a 9-hole miniature golf course, then proceeded to hold regular meetings and read over the various texts. I still think this was totally rigged by the producers ("look how well-behaved the kids are! Clearly, this show isn't irresponsible in the slightest! Look, he's reading the Koran. Tolerant, too!") Aside from that one day, the bible camp never came up again.

8:23: In trying to assemble that list, clearly I've missed something, because: GIRL FIGHT!! Featuring the token Asian girl...and Emilie (9), the child spy sent by PETA. (She went ballistic near the beginning of the season when it was decided that the town needed to kill four chickens for food. Now, without being too unkind, let's just say that her not insubstantial heft suggests that she's probably not sticking to veggies at home. OK, that was still pretty unkind.)

8:25: The chyron informs us that it's Day 40. Last day!

8:26: The big news of the day? Three $50,000 gold stars will be awarded. So...when you said that they were all gone, you were just lying, right?

Alex, the pocket-sized 9 year old Asian boy that won the star last week is told to pick up one of the stars and asked how heavy the star is. Verdict? Heavy!. This leads to an extended discussion between Carrie and I about Alex's frankly weird post-star speech last week, where he basically said: "fuck you all, I don't even really need this. My parents are rich! Rich, I tell you!!" I Still think it was better than giving it to creepy Jerred, who everyone apparently thinks is brilliant because he talks about crazy science shit all the time (last week it was a teleporter). Dudes, TALKING about shit doesn't mean you'll be able to invent it. Check me out: a robot that makes omelets for you; a machine that lets you relive one day though the eyes of any historical figure; prescription car windshields, so I can drive without contacts (wait...that last one is kind of awesome...)

8:30: Before we get to the three stars, it's time for some sort of chore challenge. ZZZZZZZ.

8:31: Sophia raspily interviews (too many menthols? I wouldn't put it past her. She's 14 going on 74.)

8:33: Karsh, holding a stopwatch, says the kids only have 40 minutes to complete the remaining two tasks (then shouts, gratingly: "HURRRRRRY!") Chill, dude, they're on pace.

8:34: DK, up to this point one of the most athletic kids on the show, inexplicably can't move and carried across the line Byron Leftwich-style. Drama Queen.

8:35: The final task of the challenge, which--for reasons surpassing comprehension--involves dismantling a log cabin, moving it half a mile, then re-building it on the other side is rather curiously edited by producers. (The crux of all the challenges is as follows: if all four teams finish in an hour, the kids get to select between two rewards--one practical, one enjoyable. If they don't finish in the hour? No reward. I'm skeptical about how rigorously they adhere to the one hour structure since, without fail, each competition comes down to the final minute, which seems far too convenient for me.)

8:36: With only a minute to go, it's going to be a tight one (you see?). But then, all of a sudden...victory! I call bullshit on this whole challenge--as if they weren't going to let them get it.

8:37: As a bonus reward: the kids get to see their parents. The hell? Nice enough moment, I guess, but they couldn't have done this on Day 20? Big fucking deal, they were going to pick the kids up at the airport tomorrow anyway.

8:38: Just as an aside: it would've been much better if DK's dad yelled at him for lollygagging during the challenge

8:40: requisite parental tour of the grounds. Of course, all parents act mock horrified at the lack of cleanliness in the cabin (as if it's EVEN CLOSE to agreeing to send your kids off for six weeks--during the school year--to appear on a CBS reality show. Way to claim the moral high ground, mom and dad!)

8:45: The completely disingenuous/two-faced Greg makes some sort of breathless speech about integrity. Whatever. I'd be way more convinced if you weren't such a dick roughly half the time you're on air.

8:47: Gold star time! And recipient #1 is...Sophia. Morons! Because she got the arcade closed down? Lame. (Juicy development: # of black winners thus far? Zero. Stay tuned, as that won't last.)

8:49: Recipient #2 is...Morgan, who distinguished herself by not whining about shoveling dirty garbage in today's competition. Morgan--hilariously--actually admits in her speech that she hasn't really been working very hard. Morgan's dad thanks the Town Council. Greg bullshits back what an honor it was to know her and then Morgan's dad starts SLURPING Greg. God, shut up. Mr. Morgan, you might want to hold off on that one until you get the series on DVD. Disgusting, really.

8:51: Migle...whom I know nothing about (literally; like they should have put her on milk cartons after the first five weeks), wins the third star. Well, that was anti-climactic. She looks positively stunned ("I didn't even know I was on this show!" Neither did we, Migle. Neither did we.)

8:52: Requisite hope for our future speech, care of Mike's mom. Nice enough moment. I wonder if she knows how profoundly weird her child is. I think she does.

8:53: grrrr....take of your stupid toque already, Greg!!

8:54: And it's official: these kids think that these kids are pretty great. Who am I to argue?

8:55: and it ends super-abruptly. Hmmm. No reunion show? No stunning confessions that Kid X was coked out the entire time? Romance? The bleach thing?? Give me something! No? Alright. That's it I guess. Barring the strike extending longer than six months (which? Nooooo!), this is probably it for KN. In which case: Goodbye, Kid Nation! I'll admit that I was about you: bright, mostly decent kids (except for Greg--Greg's the devil), engaging format, fairly entertaining.

If the show does return, might I suggest child star Kid Nation (featuring, no doubt, Queen Dakota Fanning ruling with an iron fist)? Come on! Has to be better than Celebrity Apprentice...


Mark P said...

This is actually directed at your sidebar note about Jack Morris in the Hall. HE WASN'T THAT GREAT. That is all.

Kyle Wasko said...

Sigh...I swear you and I go through this every damn year: yes, he was. 254 wins (and the winningest pitcher of the 80s), a no-hitter, four World Series rings, and the clutchest pitching performance of my (and your) lifetime (Game 7, '91 WS--I still swear that he would've pitched fifteen shutout innings if he needed to). I agree that the career ERA thing (3.90) is a problem, but Glavine's is roughly comparable (3.51) and I don't hear anyone seriously saying that he won't make it. In addition, he was no media darling, which, I think, is the real reason he's not going to make it (which...don't even get me started.) I really do think he deserves to be in.

The R.O.B. said...

Thank you.

For the record, I said here:

that one of the things that pained me about Kid Nation - was that watching kids cry wasn't funny (like it is in the bachelor).

Sean said...

Once again, I find your writing highly entertaining and your attention to detail deeply disturbing...

I just stumbled across this link which describes the reaction of what can only be described as superfans to the cancellation of 'Jericho' earlier this year (a show I had never heard of before now).

Mark P said...

* Wins aren't the best metric of worth.

* A no-hitter is absolutely not a metric of worth. Is Bud Smith a HOFer? Wilson Alvarez? If we had seen McGowan notch one last June, should they have started working on his plaque immediately after the game?

* Morris was indeed hella-brilliant in Game 7 of the 1991 Series. He was also dogshit in both of his starts in the 1992 Series.

* World Series rings aren't at all a good metric of talent. Luis Sojo has four rings. Ernie Banks has none.

* Glavine, in just three more seasons of pitching, has 50 more wins and just 13 more losses than Morris did. Almost half a run difference in ERA isn't "roughly comparable." Glavine's ERA+ is also 119 in comparison to Morris' barely above-average 105. I wouldn't call Glavine a sterling example of a HOFer...using Simmons' pyramid method, he's a Stage One and only a very borderline Stage Two based on the 300 wins.

I think you're letting your Tigers fandom overwhelm your better judgement.

RT Murphy said...

The only thing about a prescription windshield is that for one's passengers, the ride would be abjectly terrifying. That, and the possibility of a fabulously expensive bifocal windshield to fix the above problem, but instead making it roughly equivalent to driving with a partially defrosted windscreen.


Jesse said...

That was truly, truly fantastic. Now I'm a little bit upset that I missed the show. But, my heart (for crappy, crappy reality TV that no one should ever watch) still belongs to "Meet My Folks".

When will they bring that back? How long a writers' strike do we need? 6 months? A year? A decade?

Oh man, I just ran it through, and there's a British version. Which ran for two episodes. Why isn't BBC on basic cable?