A reality show that's entertainingand
smart? Sounds about as oxymoronic as it gets, but Morgan Spurlock has pulled it off with30 Days
. With this series (offered here on two discs containing six episodes and a variety of bonus material), Spurlock, who got a 2005 Best Documentary Oscar nomination forSuper Size Me
, his record of a harrowing month spent on a strict McDonald's-only diet, has effectively taken his act to the not-so-small screen. The premise: put "normal" middle-class Americans (in this case, all of them white) into situations where they are way out of their comfort zones, archetypal fish out of water who must spend 30 days experiencing how the other half lives. Thus we have tales involving a Christian from West Virginia who lives with a Muslim American couple in Dearborn, Michigan; a straight dude from rural Michigan who moves in with a homosexual roommate in San Francisco's Castro District, "the gayest place on Earth;" and a mother in Phoenix who, concerned about her daughter's excessive drinking at college, goes on her own heavy alcohol binge. Spurlock himself is the subject of an episode in which he and his fiancé try to subsist on the minimum wage, while the only one that doesn't fit the mold concerns an out-of-shape 34-year-old man trying to find the fountain of youth by embarking on a strict regimen of exercise, diet, and major doses of steroids and Human Growth Hormone pills.
The stories don't all have happy endings: the Phoenix woman's drinking has no affect whatsoever on her daughter, and the steroid guy drops out when his sperm count almost immediately drops to zero. But the discomfort felt by the others seems genuine, as do the lessons in tolerance and cultural understanding they eventually learn, even given the artificial confines of reality TV. What's more, Spurlock provides some real information along the way, telling us how many drinks it takes to be over the legal limit in Arizona (five shots ought to do it) or how many passages in the Bible are interpreted as proscribing homosexuality (six), detailing the negative side effects of "anti-aging" medicines (too many to list here), and offering insight into such Muslim customs as prayer and fasting (the Christian dresses in Muslim garb and even learns a little Arabic). Extra features include commentary (by Spurlock and others) on four of the episodes, as well as "Diary Cams" (outtakes, basically) for all six. --Sam Graham