|30 Days: Season One (2005)
Starring: Morgan Spurlock
For many, the proverbial pop culture grab bag known as “reality TV” has quickly become one of the most-watched mediums in the average American household. Whether it’s publicly embarrassing someone on national television, or single-handedly transforming the Average Joe into an overnight celebrity, the cut-rate genre has not only dominated the airwaves for the past decade, but it has also made the people who watch these shows progressively less intelligent with each passing week. Luckily, the few people who did still care about watching smart television (and yes, it does exist) were offered a glimmer of hope with documentary filmmaker Morgan Spurlock’s FX original series, “30 Days.” Of course, the series wasn’t quite as eye-opening as was originally intended, but it still served as an excellent alternative to Paris and Nicole.
Following up on the success of his feature documentary, “Super Size Me,” Spurlock’s new project dared the viewer to “take a walk in someone else’s shoes,” and in continuing in his daredevil antics, the filmmaker volunteered himself as the test subject for the first experiment: “Minimum Wage.” Spurlock is joined by fiancée Alex on his month-long excursion, and after arriving in Columbus, OH (the backdrop of their experiment), the couple finds minimum wage jobs (or three, in Morgan’s case) just to make ends meet. Not surprisingly, this is also the best episode of the season, mostly because Spurlock has such a great onscreen presence, but also because the issue affects a much larger percentage of the population. Unexpected visits to the hospital (Alex for a bladder infection, and Morgan for a wrist sprain) also help to jumpstart a rant about the state of the country’s overblown medical system and how it’s affecting low-income earners.
Unfortunately, the rest of the episodes aren’t nearly as effective, and because the series is so subjective, most of them come off as trying to be too controversial. “Anti-Aging” isn’t a total failure, but the subject is forced to quit only a few weeks in; the participant from “Muslims and America” walks away from the experience virtually unchanged; and the “Binge Drinking Mom” episode is a complete waste of time because the daughter doesn’t even care that her mother is putting her body through hell to make a point. The other two experiments fare much better then the abovementioned, but they still aren’t as entertaining as the pilot. “Straight Man in a Gay World” sends a homophobic young man to live and work in San Francisco’s Casto District, while “Off the Grid” follows two energy-dependant friends as they move to an eco-friendly village for an entire month.
The DVD release of “30 Days” looks to make good on the undersized season (only six episodes – roughly 4 ½ hours) with almost as much bonus material. Along with audio commentaries on four episodes, the two-disc effort also includes a “Lost Diaries” segment for each experiment. Like before, the commentary tracks featuring Spurlock are the most entertaining - since his passion for the project bleeds through like blood on a white blouse - while the “Lost Diaries” segments serve the same purpose as deleted scenes; most of the footage is pointless, but there are some clips of discernible worth. And while all of this additional information certainly helps to make watching the show a richer experience, “30 Days” isn’t going to change your life. It may alter it slightly – like “Super Size Me” did for my diet – but I’ll never stop eating fast food, and these issues will probably never be resolved.