Capitalizing on concern about the beleaguered state of public education, NBC’s “School Pride” takes an increasingly disheartening tack for reality TV — namely, offering facile, feel-good solutions to complex problems. In this case, that means school-renovation projects, one venue at a time, culled from “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition’s” instant-gratification playbook, down to the arbitrary (as in seven- to 10-day) deadlines. Sorry, but schools don’t need self-styled SWAT teams — as the Scooby gang refers to themselves — parachuting in to save the day. They need money, political will and community engagement. Class, and show, dismissed.
Ah, and what a gang it is, consisting of a former Miss USA (Susie Castillo), a comic (Kym Whitley), a self-described journalist (Jacob Soboroff, who’s worked for AMC News) and “team leader” Tom Stroup.
“It’s time to fix our broken schools,” Stroup announces at the outset, apparently oblivious to how charged “community organizer” has become on the political right by referring to their larger task in those terms.
The quartet initially descends on a middle school in Compton, Calif., followed in the second and third weeks by missions to elementary schools in Louisiana and Tennessee.
The basic template, however, remains unchanged throughout: a major rebuilding project, which inevitably offers scads of product-placement opportunities for companies like exterminator Orkin, Home Depot, People magazine, and yes, even a field trip to Universal Studios. Wow, a lesson in Corporate Synergy 101 — and our schools win too!
Improving education is certainly a laudable goal and a timely topic, as evidenced by the documentary “Waiting for Superman.” Yet the cynicism underlying this heavily scored exercise is difficult to ignore. Beaming, screaming kids, after all, and a teary-eyed adults — from the beauty queen to the teachers — make great visuals for TV. (A&E’s “Teach: Tony Danza,” which spends seven episodes at the same high school, is a more patient variation on this basic ploy.)
Soboroff seems positively amazed in the premiere when he lands an interview with California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, asking who and what was responsible for the school’s dilapidated condition. The not-exactly-press-shy governor rattled off a laundry list of factors: “Labor, special interests, a lack of parent participation, a lack of funding. Clearly, I would say government.”
Hey, his term’s almost up. Let’s give him a show. Maybe that will at least have more substance to it.
Produced by Denise Cramsey — a graduate of the aforementioned “Extreme Makeover” — and actress Cheryl Hines, “School Pride” is quite reminiscent of “Three Wishes,” another uplifting if short-lived program the Peacock network tried Fridays five years ago.
Then again, they do say those who don’t study history are doomed to repeat it.