Last week on reality TV I saw:
... parents pimping out their marginally talented children in the kiddie (not to be confused with "cute") talent show American Juniors.
... poorly executed musical numbers and really horrid costumes on American Idol-wannabe Fame.
... a pack of she-wolves scheming for the affections of a man on For Love or Money. Whoever fools him into picking her over all others wins the cash prize. The man? The joke is on him.
... scantily clad athletes writhing in a water tank in Dog Eat Dog.
... a man confessing to a murder in a mind-boggling display of arrogance and ineptitude on Crime and Punishment, then trying to blame his teenage girlfriend. He didn't think he deserved to go to jail because he loved his sons -- just like the victim's father loved his son. And besides, it was another one of his girlfriend's boyfriends who did it. Did I mention that the man was defending himself?
And that's just the reality shows. On talk shows like The View, I heard updates on the Laci Peterson case. The hot topic: What's in the sealed autopsy report? In the absence of that "crucial" public information, gruesome rumors about the state of Peterson's body, how it was found, and other appalling details were passed around like cookies at teatime.
Just when you think reality TV can't get any worse, another premise comes along to prove you wrong. But maybe, maybe there's an upside to all this. At least that's what Cara Mertes, executive director of the documentary film series POV (Point of View), says in the May 26 issue of Television Week. "While documentaries and reality shows are only tangentially related, the reality buzz has made audiences more aware of the larger documentary genre and that such shows can be entertaining." And who knows -- you might learn something. Not how to outwit, outsmart, or outplay someone, but something about what it means to be human.
Now in its 16th season, POV returns to PBS on Tuesday with another slate of provocative films that challenge assumptions, tear at your heart, and even show you what it means to fall in love.
The season premieres with Flag Wars, the 2003 SXSW Jury Award winner for Best Documentary Feature. Filmed vérité style with an evocative musical score by Graham Haynes, Flag Wars examines the challenge of urban renewal as experienced in a Columbus, Ohio, neighborhood. Filmmakers Linda Goode Bryant and Laura Poitras were curious to see how two historically oppressed groups (African-Americans and gays) would come to terms with each other in a once grand neighborhood fallen on hard times. To the mostly affluent gay home-buyers new to the neighborhood, the rundown homes are seen as a chance at achieving the American dream, community-building, and the old-fashioned, roll-up-your-sleeves satisfaction that comes from restoring structures to their former splendor. To the existing African-American community (a community that is largely elderly or impoverished), the issue revolves around cultural preservation and the right to keep their homes in the face of an economic development that seems to work against them. What makes Flag Wars so astonishingly poignant is not the war of wills, but how the film conveys visceral relationships to home, place, and geography. Flag Wars airs Tuesday, June 17, at 9pm.
Other POV films in June and July include:
Georgie Girl (D: Annie Goldson and Peter Wells) Boy, diva, Maori, prostitute, transsexual, and New Zealand Parliament member -- Georgina Beyer has done it all. An astonishing story told with candor, respect, and humor. Airs June 23 at 10pm.
Larry v. Lockney (D: Jim Schermbeck) When the Lockney ISD created a policy for mandatory student drug testing, Larry Tannahill said no. Believing his son's Fourth Amendment protection from unreasonable search and seizure was being violated, Tannahill began a courageous battle that reached the U.S. District Court. Airs July 1 at 9pm.
Discovering Dominga (D: Patricia Flynn and Mary Jo McConahay) Born in Guatemala, orphaned at 9, and later adopted by an Iowa family, Denese Becker is haunted by strange and troubling memories. To quiet the ghosts, she searches for her past on a voyage that is both liberating and heart wrenching. Airs July 8 at 9pm.
Thirteen films and four specials compose the POV season, which continues through Sept. 9. Not all films air locally, and dates and times are subject to change. For a complete POV schedule and background information go to www.pbs.org/pov or www.klru.org .