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Kid Nation a mixed bag, for this parent

By asoglin
Wednesday, September 19th, 2007 at 9:53 pm in Kid Nation.

kidnationTV critic Chuck Barney gets partial credit for my television viewing habits tonight. I’ve been one of the loudest opponents of CBS’ new reality show, “Kid Nation,” which puts 40 kids in a New Mexico ghost town for 40 days without parental supervision. But as Chuck pointed out earlier this week, I was among the critics “slamming a TV show, sight unseen.” So, I decided to tune in.

Admittedly, I had preconceived notions. Everything about this screamed exploitation of kids, starting with CBS calling them “participants” instead of employees, even though these kids were sometimes filmed 16 hours a day. Most alarming was the contract in which parents essentially waived away their kids’ rights – and seeing the show tonight did little to lower that red flag. That said, it wasn’t as bad as I expected. In fact, some things surprised me.


The kids really rallied around each other. Early on, one had a leg cramp, so his teammates hoisted him into a cart. When the youngest were reduced to tears (which happened frequently and not surprisingly, considering these kids are denied all contact with family and friends), the kids offered words of encouragement and hugs. After a rough first day, and very late first dinner in which kids complained they were starving, the youngest group of kids cooked a breakfast that had everyone raving. The show’s debut spoke volumes about the good natures of kids as a whole.

Unfortunately, even the good is tempered by the fact that these are still kids. Greg, 15, and his new friend Blaine ran around town at night to graffiti the bunkhouses. The kids started with only one outhouse and narrowly won the right to seven others (they were smart enough to chose the seven outhouses over a television; score another in the kids’ favor). It’s more than a little unsettling to think that had they lost, the producers were prepared to leave 40 kids sharing one toilet. There was shoving. Lots of crying. Plenty of chaos.

And a few statements that bring me back to my initial reservations, like this one from 9-year-old Alex: “I felt sort of weird because I thought maybe there would be adults” and this from 8-year-old Jimmy: “I’m only 8. I think I’m too young to do this.” Even one of the town leaders, Mike (who’s 11) talked about being stressed because they “weren’t prepared for this scale of things.” That’s troublesome, because it indicates these kids were plopped down in the middle of the game without being properly clued in to the scope of what was ahead of them.

Repeatedly, what struck me as good about this show was often negated by something unsettling. At the first town hall meeting, the show’s host (the only adult, so far) asked if any child wanted to quit and go home. Young Jimmy took him up on the offer because he missed his family. The host called him “extraordinarily brave” just for trying the show. Moments later, one of the remaining kids received a gold star for working hard, a gold star worth $20,000. And right there, producers have dangled a prize that can cause animosity among the kids and pressure a homesick child into remaining despite his emotional turmoil.

So, when it’s all said and done, I’m willing to give this show a chance. (Check out what Chuck thought of “Kid Nation” in his blog, TV Freak.) I’ll tune in again next week, but I’m still going into it with some wariness. The preview shows the kids contemplating killing a chicken. As Chuck says, I shouldn’t judge sight unseen, but I’ve got a bad feeling about this.
Ann Tatko-Peterson

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No Responses to “Kid Nation a mixed bag, for this parent”

  1. Ari Soglin Says:

    I’ve avoided the backstory, so if child labor laws were violated, it was lost on me as I watched this first episode of Kid Nation. My problem with it was that it was borrrring. Especially when the adult showed up. The whole premise that this is a town run by kids just doesn’t work when Jonathan makes his appearances. Maybe during the chicken slaughter next week, the kids will accidently whack him instead. I do anticipate much emotional angst if they off an animal, but most of ‘em probably eat meat every day of their lives and they’re old enough to have contemplated where it comes from. They’ll be OK. No wonder my kids are mixed up, eh? Speaking of which, I watched the show with my teen-age son and pre-teen daughter. She liked it. He said he didn’t. Both liked Sophia (http://www.cbs.com/primetime/kid_nation/bios/sophia/), the energetic, hard-working 14-year-old who got the first gold star. BTW, we all cringed during the Vagisil screening kit ad. “I don’t want to know,” one of my kids said.

    So, here’s what CBS needs to do: Knock off Jonathan and the camera crew; the kids do the filming and it gets kinda herky-jerky and blurry. A YouTube touch. Then, Mike (http://www.cbs.com/primetime/kid_nation/bios/mike/), one of the town council appointees (how many episodes til he’s ousted?) gets a crush on Sophia, but so does tough-guy Greg (http://www.cbs.com/primetime/kid_nation/bios/greg/). They duke it out, but she doesn’t like either. Then, maybe an episode with food poisoning; let’s test those seven outhouses. And at some point, crime will be a problem and they’ll need a sheriff. And if you have law enforcement, you need a judicial system and then lawyers and, of course, a newspaper to keep ‘em all honest. … OK, so maybe I can get into it. I’ll give it another week, too.

  2. jb Says:

    I have very mixed feelings too. But my favorite line of the night came when red-head leader girl comforts the two likeable council members and says …Wait, may I just interject here that what I hate about this show is that reality tv depends on, and is edited for, viewers loving some characters and loathing others – Top Chef’s Marcel, for example, or Survivor’s Jerri. But every time I rolled my eyes over council member 4′s (Mike?) desperate earnestness, I felt like a *terrible* person. He’s a kid! A real kid, not a TV character!

    OK, ok, back to redhead. Best line ever: “Group hug. You know you need it.”

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