In weaker moments, network execs have compared their reliance on reality TV to an addiction to crack cocaine, which is especially appropriate with this concept — one that dances close enough to the line of “icky” to suggest producers, execs and contestants need an intervention of their own. That said, there’s a train-wreck quality to the final product that makes it watchable in a “Maury Povich” way, perhaps because television’s capacity to exploit human shortcomings seems surpassed only by people’s willingness to let appalling aspects of their life play out on national TV.
In keeping with the trend of transforming movie and TV premises into unscripted programs, this series plays like a reality version of “The Exorcist” (“The Interventionist?”), down to the creepy music and behavior that’s just short of heads spinning around. Each hour focuses on two addicts who think they are being profiled for a documentary about addiction, unaware of the intervention to come.
The premiere features Alyson, a former White House intern who has taken to stealing morphine from her dying father; and Tommy, a onetime broker whose cocaine use has left him homeless. In one of those moments that feels particularly staged, the cameras follow Tommy into a hotel and convenience store, rolling as he mooches a comp breakfast and steals snacks, respectively.
Proving addiction isn’t just for druggies, the second episode highlights an actress with a shopping obsession and a gambling addict who has frittered away gobs of money and his parents’ house.
With two screwed-up lives to chronicle each hour, there’s scant time to dawdle. So the tears of loved ones flow right away, as they lament how addiction (possession?) has stolen the soul of their brother, daughter or friend. It’s all the usual staples of daytime talk, distilled into a rather unsavory package made more palatable, theoretically, by the underlying “Just say no” message.
The interventions themselves prove anticlimactic, primarily because the subjects are so pathetic that most offer feeble resistance. Post-show codas deliver some sense of where they are now, but the cheap thrill in this exercise stems from seeing how low people can sink, not the heartwarming aspect of whether they have enough bootstrap by which to be hoisted up.
As for A&E, the channel continues to use edgy reality to shed its PBS wannabe image, albeit without establishing an entirely clear idea (or brand, if you insist) of what it currently represents. While some of these programs have succeeded, it’s hard to build a lineup around “Growing Up Gotti” and “Dog the Bounty Hunter,” which provide the kind of quick fix that can easily fade.
In that sense, those associated with “Intervention” — and indeed, reality TV in general — might look back on this time much the same way the show’s subjects do. The highs were nice while they lasted, but there’s always that nagging risk of waking up with one hell of a hangover, feeling confused as to how you got there.