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Review: Sarah Palin's Alaska

Sarah Palin
TLC/Gilles Mingasson
"Sarah Palin's Alaska"

The Bottom Line

For Palin lovers and haters alike, it’s all here. But is the state itself lost amid the posturing?

Premieres

Nov. 14, 9 p.m. (TLC)

Starring

Sarah Palin, Todd Palin, children: Track, Bristol, Willow, Piper and Trig

Not a whole lot has changed from the moment TLC announced it was making a reality series with Sarah Palin to watching the first episode all the way through. The same thoughts most observers had then probably will remain the same. That is, if you loathe Palin, well, 'Sarah Palin’s Alaska' will not change that. If you love Palin, there’s probably plenty here to solidify your beliefs.

Which means that Alaska did precisely what it set out to do: to keep TLC in the headlines for an impressively long time. Say what you will about the channel but you have to give it credit for seizing the moment, riding the controversy and, probably making a lot of money.

The gamble, of course, was having a politician of any kind be the star of a reality show. The polarizing nature of politics means Palin haters could spread their unhappiness to future TLC (and possibly Discovery) shows and damage the brand by tuning out. But people have short memories. They can be told “vote with your remote” ad nauseum, but eventually any boycott will end when the Discovery family produces something exceptional. Or, in the case of TLC, when something just short of appalling captures everyone’s attention.

So what to make of Alaska? Is this reality show really about showcasing the state and its natural beauty? Or is it political propaganda meant to reshape people’s impression of Palin? A little of the first and a lot of the second, no doubt. It’s impossible to view this without a political prism. It makes perfect sense to assume Democrats might only watch to mock Palin and her family.  Palin and her advisors probably don’t care. If Alaska is meant to sway anyone, it would be the people in Palin’s party who have doubts about the woman (plus the show has a theme song that just begs to be a campaign rally song). But hey, there’s really beautiful Alaskan scenery, and Palin does serve as a tour guide for the state as she goes fishing, shoots guns, walks over glaciers and dangerous crevasses, etc.

What’s most unfortunate about Alaska is that what could have been a very good travel and nature series gets co-opted by politics and the faux believability of a reality show. Executive producer Mark Burnett has proved time and again that with his team of camera people he can tap into beauty with ease the way he does most notably with Survivor.  The harsh beauty of that show’s locations are part of the appeal. If it was simply titled Alaska, Burnett might have turned in a travelogue to be proud of.

But of course that never was the point, or series would have been on Discovery, where such attempts are nurtured. That it’s on TLC, where the only interest in nature comes from people’s overamped displays of human nature in front of a camera, tells you all you need to know.

For those who plan on tuning in only to have something to rant about, there’s plenty of fodder. There are the familiar Palin language quirks — like when the family is fishing near bears and Palin says, “It keeps you on your heels because you know what they could do to a person.” Or when she says that with husband and “helpmate” Todd, “It’s some good ying and yang.” There’s also that grating voice, the clothing choices and that she says “Oh my gooooooosh” too many times to count.

Perhaps most surprising is that — in the first episode, at least  — it doesn’t cast the best light on Palin’s kids. Piper, 9, doesn’t seem to listen much to what Mom asks, and teenager Willow seems moody and defiant, at one point sneaking her boyfriend upstairs to her room after Mom slid the baby gate (for Trig) closed and told him not to go up. You’d think with the whole Bristol Babygate thing, they might have edited that part.

There’s also paranoia about Joe McGinniss, who is writing a book about Palin and rented the house next to her. She talks about him (without naming him) constantly as the camera shows him about 15 feet away on his deck, face blurred out. But though Todd says McGinniss is writing “a hit piece on my wife” and Palin keeps asking whether he’s watching, what he’s doing is reading a book on his porch, oblivious. Todd built a 14-foot fence to give the family more privacy. “By the way,” Palin intones politically, “I thought that was a good example; what we just did others could look at and say, ‘This is what we need to do to secure our nation’s border.’”

Of course, these same moments will help Republicans re-establish the folksy bond that hooked them on her in the first place.

Palin gets a lot of close-ups, wears shorts around the house and does other tough she-woman activities, all while looking like a loving wife and mother and career woman. Palin apparently didn’t balk at some unflattering shots of her and admits to being afraid of heights, showing fear, etc. Does she overcome them? You betcha. And what kind of message does that grit and determination send?

Exactly. Alaska shouldn’t worry or rile the people who don’t like her. It should worry her Republican opponents should she ever seek, say, a higher office.