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Reviewed by Will Harris
eality television has never particularly been a friend of mine, but A&E often manages to produce series which capture my interest on a level where that which would normally feel like morbid fascination is somehow transformed into legitimate curiosity about a psychological disorder. The last time it happened was with “Intervention,” which felt voyeuristic yet still served to shine a light on the problems of addiction and the damage it can do to individuals and their families. “Hoarders,” however, spotlights a condition that you hear about but can’t fully comprehend until you see it for yourself – and once you do, you’ll find yourself stricken with a profound need to clean your house.
Case and point: this review would’ve been finished last week, but after each episode, I had to go do dishes, put away laundry, take out the trash – anything to feel as though I was doing something to un-clutter my house.
Each 60-minute episode of the series focuses on two individuals – or, in some cases, an individual and a couple – who have been clinically diagnosed as hoarders, i.e. people who cannot bring themselves to part with things, even though it may result in a house filled to the rafters with materials which, to the average person, might seem to be trash. Indeed, in some of the cases seen on “Hoarders,” it is trash we’re talking about. There’s one gentleman who refuses to collect and dispose of the hair shed by his dog, as he has convinced himself that to do so would be to shorten his pet’s life; another hasn’t emptied the trashcan in his bathroom in months, resulting in a pile of refuse consisting of a highly disturbing volume of bodily-substance residue. A woman admits that she’s saved a friend’s empty prescription bottle for sixteen years because she wants to make sure she can remember the name of the drug if she ever needs it. A man buys countless parts, pieces, and tools for items which he may or may not ever need, filling his house and all its stairwells with boxes, and when it reaches a point where his wife trips and falls down the stairs because they’re so cramped, he still does nothing to change the situation.
Every episode of “Hoarders” features a tragic tale – some are being evicted, one woman is losing her children because of the condition of her house – but each also features the subjects getting the chance to save themselves from their situation. Sometimes, they’re aware of their problem and work with the folks who’ve come to assist them and repair the damage done. In other cases, however, the credits roll and things are no better than they were when the episode began. This is because, for better or worse, the hoarders are told that they have to be the ones who make the decision to throw things away. And for some, even the threat of eviction isn’t enough to make them change their ways. Not that this is terribly surprising, given that we’re dealing with a legitimate medical condition, but it’s still depressing to see it happen.
For those who have already seen “Hoarders,” it probably goes without saying that the definitive episode of Season One is the one which features Jake and Shirley. Jake is the aforementioned gentleman with a unique view of the importance of dog hair, but Shirley’s the one whose story is unforgettable in the worst possible way. Shirley is a cat hoarder, which is to say that she has an unfortunate habit of rescuing cats, letting them live in her house, and then totally losing track of them as they roam around the place. From garage to attic, her home is not only filled with the stench of cat urine and feces, it’s actually littered with the corpses of cats that have died, some of old age, some kittens who were born but never made it much past the womb.
“Hoarders” is not a show for the weak of stomach, but it does make for enthralling viewing. Some might say it’s of the car wreck variety (you can’t look away even though you know you should) but it’s done without mocking its subjects, and it does serve a purpose by reminding viewers that there but for the grace of God goes your house.
Special Features: The only bonus material is a collection of additional footage from the various episodes, but given the effect that the episodes themselves will have on most viewers, it’s hard to imagine that many will want to watch anything further.