Review: ‘Inside Man’

Morgan Spurlock

Morgan Spurlock's docuseries takes a single-topic deep dive into the news

Through his form of participatory journalism, Morgan Spurlock seems committed to at least try to be a reasonable man in unreasonable times, putting a face on stories the media frequently reduces to statistics and polarized shouting matches. By occupying that niche, he’s well suited to the zone in which CNN hopes to operate, and his new series, “Inside Man,” is an understated effort — less showy than his signature documentary “Super Size Me,” and less gimmicky than his last TV foray, FX’s immersive “30 Days.” All told, it’s a laudable exercise, if one unlikely to lure many who are outside the tent inside.

The first of Spurlock’s single-topic hours, devoted to medical marijuana, is probably less urgent and timely than the second, which focuses on guns. In each case, the documaker goes to work at a store where the product’s sold — a medical marijuana dispensary in Northern California; a retailer of high-powered guns in Virginia — giving him a chance to interact with the normal-looking folk who come in to buy weed or load up on assault rifles (and in the latter case, fret about President Obama disarming them).

“Are there more than two sides to the story?” Spurlock asks in the second hour, making clear he thinks there are, as he seeks middle ground between the National Rifle Assn.’s resistance and those who would like to impose significant restrictions on private gun ownership — just as he makes a case against prosecution of pot sellers.

One reason the opener smells a little stale, frankly, is because the distributor in which Spurlock embeds himself — Harborside Health Center, headed by Steve DeAngelo — has already been featured in the Discovery Channel series “Weed Wars.” Granted, DeAngelo has fought a public court fight against the government, but he still feels a trifle overexposed for these purposes.

Mostly, though, one has to wonder if Spurlock’s approach — exploring sensible solutions, and expressing an opinion without being pugnacious about it — can gain much traction in the current cable news environment. And while he does bring a higher profile to the task than the average correspondent (as did CNN’s other recent Sunday addition featuring food/travel guru Anthony Bourdain, whose show ended its first season June 9), his first-person narrative style isn’t distinctive enough to knife through the clutter and noise.

It would be nice, actually, if this sort of programming could work on on the channel, which is clearly in a period of experimentation under new management, trying to be more provocative without compromising its brand.

“Inside Man” tackles serious topics (future hours will deal with migrant farm workers, elder care, union workers, education, bankruptcy, and the drought), and it certainly isn’t shrill. While there are places for that on TV — think PBS, or Alexandra Pelosi’s projects for HBO — the odds of such shows generating sustainable ratings in ad-supported venues are about the same as drawing to an inside straight.

Inside Man

(Series; CNN, Sun. June 23, 10 p.m.)

Production

Produced by Warrior Poets.

Crew

Executive producers, Morgan Spurlock, Jeremy Chilnick, Matthew Galkin; producers, Shannon Gibson, Kristen Vaurio; writers, Chilnick, Spurlock; editor, Jessica Reynolds; music, Jingle Punks. 60 MIN.

Cast

Host: Morgan Spurlock

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  1. Micktistics says:

    The show really takes a liberal stance on the issues. It was mostly one-sided. I got tired of it in the middle of the third episodes. In the poorly titled episode, “immigration”, which should be titled “illegal immigration”, they only showed how it impacts agriculture, but majority of the jobs taken by illegal immigrants are in construction. Also, it doesn’t address the hundreds of billions of tax dollars that have to go to the school system to support the children of illegal immigrants. In the Marijuanna episode, they tried to contact only one opponent against it, and by tried, I mean he called her several times in the course of a few hours (he was wearing the same clothes). This documentary show was extremely disappointing. I expected a more impartial or bipartisan view from Mr. Spurlock, instead you find out his stance in less than three episodes. I feel sorry for the moderates and people who are neutral on these issues, who might be taken in by this show. In conclusion, I think you’ll only enjoy the show if your liberal. I hope this review helps.

  2. Alfred Humphreys says:

    I just saw the 1% 99% program. It was good – as far as it did go – – – BUT there is more the the story about poverty and low income problems. I suggest another show as a follow-up. In the next show, Morgan needs to address the problems that originate in the dysfunctional families and compare the lack of education and limited success with other cultures that are in the USA. I am sure that If Morgan would look at and profile the Asians, East Indians and Jewish societies, he would see that these cultures have structure and discipline as well as a support system for their families and friends. These cultures also encourage and participate in the education of their children, including speaking another language.

    He did a good job showing the attorney that overcame a “poor” family background and Morgan did a good thing with the Fund raising – – – but he needed to encourage other participants of the fund raising to step-up and host another fund raising. More important – the TCA needed to provide education and job training NOT just financial assistance to the “needy”. There is more to life than just earning a higher minimum wage

    It is time for our society and legal system to stop supporting single parent family life styles. I know about that because I was a single parent that provided structure and discipline for my children all the way through their college educations. (IVY League engineering and medicine). We need family structure and stop expecting the school systems to do the job that the family should be doing. Our society must have a stronger education program and that education starts at home.

    The unemployed brick layer/mason had an opportunity to work closely with his son and assist his son to be at the top of his class, rather than just playing with his toy cars. That “family” also did not need to support a dog when they need financial assistance.

    There is a lot more to talk about regarding these problems in our society and or government needs to open their eyes – – – stop throwing money at these problems and look at fixing the problem at the root cause of these problems.

    I challenge Morgan Spurlock to revisit this program and take it to the next level. It is time to show the cultures and societies within our society that do not have these problems and use these ethnic groups as a positive example for others.

  3. paul says:

    I watched the episode on Marijuana…The episode only really takes one side of the argument (the case FOR the legalization of marijuana). The way that he “investigated”, by spending all of his time with the dispensary and then visiting a producer, lends itself to being cast as a one sided story. It would have been tantamount to him having gone to McDonald’s and having the manager lead him around and tell him how great the fast food industry is and why people should be able to order whatever size they want. I believe critical thinkers would have appreciated half of the show spent on the long term negative side effects associated with marijuana. If people want to make the case that because alcohol is legal marijuana should be legal, it holds no merit because we already know that alcohol is a detrimental substance, that in all honesty, probably should be banned. Just like alcohol, you should not drive after smoking marijuana. A primary reason there are less automobile deaths related to drivers being high is because there are many less users and abusers of marijuana, as it is illegal. And if people are worried about the cost of healthcare now, wait to see what happens if marijuana was legalized on a national basis.

    • Will says:

      The episode was mainly about marijuana dispensaries in California. Spurlock repeatedly tried to contact Melinda Haag, The US District Attorney who is trying to shut down these businesses, but she ignored requests for interviews to defend her policies. That is why this episode seemed one-sided. You are correct that pot is not harmless, but the prohibition of cannabis has not reduced usage, and does much more harm than good. (Think 20’s alcohol prohibition) Every objective study shows that while driving high is dangerous, it is nowhere near the danger that driving drunk is. A recent study even showed that enacting state MMJ laws has actually LOWERED traffic fatalities in the states that did. This is likely because people who smoke more tend to drink less. If even a relatively small amount of people substituted cannabis for obviously dangerous substances like alcohol or prescription opiates, it is likely healthcare costs would drop overall.

      • paul says:

        He repeatedly attempted to call one person at one time. It was kind of a joke actually. If someone is busy, it doesn’t matter how many times you call, they’re still not available to take your call. Can you cite the study that you speak of? I’ve never seen any evidence in real life or studies that shows those who smoke drink less. If people replaced alcohol with cannabis, you would just have people with a different (though similar) set of problems.

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