×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

TV Reviews: ‘Kind Hearted Woman,’ ‘Vice’

Juxtaposed against TV’s popular versions of “reality” as well as the medium’s increasingly fuzzy definition of “news,” it’s worth taking a look at two programs premiering early next month: David Sutherland’s “Kind Hearted Woman,” a 4 hour, 40-minute documentary airing on PBS under the banners of “Frontline” and “Independent Lens;” and “Vice,” a half-hour HBO news program from international hot spots, produced by Bill Maher.

The term “reality TV” has come to define a brand of programming often most noteworthy for its un-reality — for coached direct-to-camera interviews and staged or orchestrated encounters. It’s somewhat bracing, as a consequence, to see programs that genuinely strive for realism, whether that involves unflinching views of horrors abroad, or explorations of life in all its awkward pauses and mundane moments at home.

Those familiar with Sutherland’s work — which includes earlier docs “Country Boys” and “The Farmer’s Wife” — know he seeks out personal stories and follows them at an unhurried, almost-hypnotic pace, extracting intimate portraits through years of painstaking filming.

He has done that and then some with Robin Charboneau, a 32-year-old Native-American woman introduced trudging through the North Dakota snow, whose hard-luck story is so dramatic it’s difficult to believe a writer wasn’t involved.

A victim of sexual abuse while in foster care, Charboneau — who is divorced has two young children — is trying to get her life together after a drinking problem and stint in rehab. Yet as she goes about that already daunting challenge, her daughter Darian alleges she has been molested by her father, adding a court and custody battle with her ex-husband to Robin’s list of hurdles.

Dispensing with music and possessing the feel of an indie film, “Kind Hearted Woman” (the title is drawn from Charboneau’s Native-American name) plods through a great number of interactions that seem to drone on, and the “Fargo”-style accents don’t help. That includes Charboneau’s tentative courtship with a new man who never seems to do much more than mumble and groan.

Nevertheless, Sutherland brings a grim reality to the project, sensitively dealing with the issues surrounding the children and sensing when to pull back — or let a third party, such as an attorney, putty in the gaps — regarding the more uncomfortable moments.

Not everything works — it’s especially stilted when the crew tags along as Robin spends New Year’s Eve with an old boyfriend — but those who stick around for the back-to-back nights will be treated to a true journey, not the fabricated sort that reality-TV players invariably say they’ve experienced.

If “Woman” takes a micro view of life, “Vice” seeks to plug in a macro picture, focusing on “the absurdity of the modern condition” as it travels to places like the Philippines, the India-Pakistan border, North Korea and Afghanistan, where the story deals with young suicide bombers.

Hosted by Vice founder Shane Smith — hardly a natural on camera — the magazine nevertheless resonates precisely because it zeroes in on unsettling tales of violence and cruelty abroad, at a moment when TV news frequently seems preoccupied with trifles at home.

Not surprisingly, these two programs are airing on networks with greater freedom in terms of ratings pressure — HBO because of its premium status, PBS because it’s not a commercial network. Indeed, it’s no accident HBO’s documentaries and PBS programs like “The Newshour” and “Frontline” seem like increasingly lonely bastions of serious news.

Neither is perfect, and “Kind Hearted Woman” could easily have pared off an hour without losing much. Still, for those prone to lamenting how the visual media too often takes its lead from TMZ, here are two shows — premiering the same week — with nary a Kardashian in sight.

Of course, if you’d like these shows not to be outliers, then some of you will have to bite the bullet and actually watch them.

Kind Hearted Woman

(Documentary; PBS, Mon.-Tues. April 1-2, 9 p.m.)

Produced by David Sutherland Prods. for WGBH/Frontline and Independent Television Service. Executive producers, Sally Jo Fifer, David Fanning, Mike Sullivan, Raney Aronson-Rath; senior series producer, Lois Vossen; producer-writer-director, Sutherland. 4 HOURS, 40 MIN.

Vice

(Series; HBO, Fri. April 5, 11 p.m.)

Produced by Bill Maher Prods. Executive producers, Maher, Shane Smith, Eddy Moretti; co-executive producer, BJ Levin. 30 MIN.

TV Reviews: 'Kind Hearted Woman,' 'Vice'

More TV

  • The Play That Goes Wrong review

    BBC Orders Comedy Series Based on ‘The Play That Goes Wrong’

    The BBC has greenlit “The Goes Wrong Show,” a new series based on Mischief Theatre’s popular “The Play That Goes Wrong” stage production about a troupe that puts on disastrous plays. The stage show has transferred from London’s West End to Broadway for a J.J. Abrams-produced version described by Variety as “a broad, silly and [...]

  • WGA West Logo

    Writers Guild Sends Hollywood Agents Proposed Code of Conduct

    Leaders of the Writers Guild of America have sent Hollywood talent agencies a proposed “Code of Conduct” with tough new restrictions on how they operate as agents for writer clients. The WGA made the disclosure Thursday night in an email to its 12,000 members, a day after announcing that it will hold a March 25 [...]

  • Jussie Smollett court

    Jussie Smollett's Attorneys Say He Was Victim of Police 'Spectacle'

    Jussie Smollett’s legal team issued a defiant statement on Thursday night, saying the “Empire” actor feels betrayed by the justice system and hinting at a political motive for his prosecution. Smollett was arrested early Thursday on a felony charge of filing a false police report. He was released after a court hearing on $100,000 bond, [...]

  • Carra Patterson Sarah Levy Paola Lazaro

    Fox Casts Four Leads in 'Patty's Auto' Pilot

    Fox has announced the casting of four lead characters for its multi-cam comedy pilot “Patty’s Auto,” including the eponymous Patty. Inspired by Patrice Banks’ Girls Auto Clinic, an auto repair shop with all female mechanics, the project centers on Patty, the intimidating owner of Patty’s Auto who will be played by “Straight Outta Compton” alumna [...]

  • Adam Pally Abby Elliott

    Adam Pally, Abby Elliott Join Cast of NBC Comedy Pilot 'Uninsured'

    NBC pilot “Uninsured” has cast four of its series regulars, with Adam Pally (“The Mindy Project,” “The President Show”) and Abby Elliott (“Saturday Night Live,” “Odd Mom Out”) playing the young married couple at the center of the show. Pally will play Dave, who is described as a “natural hype man with a good heart.” Elliott [...]

  • Jussie Smollett Appeared in Documentary on

    Jussie Smollett Recently Hosted Doc on Lynching, Filmmaker Talks 'Coincidence'

    In May 2018, Jussie Smollett appeared as the narrator and correspondent in an episode of the Epix documentary series “America Divided” that explored the subject of hate crimes, specifically lynching, in the state of Tennessee. Now that the “Empire” actor has been charged with filing a false police report and Chicago police are convinced he [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content