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In an attempt to broaden my TVgasm horizons, tonight I decided to switch on over to Current TV, the much heralded youth network brought to us by Al Gore, among other people. Surely this would be the edgy cable channel that would bridge the gap between MTV and Comedy Central. Well, after enduring a near interminable piece (or “pod” as they call it) on a female preacher from the South, I was rudely greeted by none other than Real World: Hawaii’s Amaya, the whiny princess whose greatest claim to fame is, well, whining and crying on TV. But now she’s the improbable face of a generation! Funny how these things happen.
Such is the way of Current TV, a noble but intensely bland attempt to wrangle in America’s digital generation with an assault of “pods” and wooden hosts. The entire look and feel of the network, at least in this early conception, reeks of corporate Groupthink mixed with naive amateurism. Those two cornerstones of youth culture — irony and subversion — have been supplanted by endless mini-docs that bore more than they engage. One such pod features a bald-headed shoe collector who drones on and on (and still on) about Air Jordans. He explains, “We’re gonna be going out to the Athletic House which is a shoe store… It’s a mom and pop store which means it’s not a chain, a national chain, or a big retailer. It’s a local boutique.” I don’t necessarily fault the guy for explaining to us the definition of “Mom and Pop Store”, but I do wonder why the editors and producers let air such mundane and unnecessary comments.
The problem, it seems, is that a bunch of well-intentioned old guys found some topics they thought were hip and then handed over the reigns to some inexperienced college grads or high school students. While I respect the opportunities the network affords these people, the truth is that they’ve churned out material barely more impressive than anything a teen can string together on iMovie. The sum effect is a series of vignettes that seem destined to find greatest traction in the classroom, not the living room. And that’s a bad thing.
Additionally, there’s a noticeable lack of humor or edge in the programming, most likely because these recently empowered filmmakers are probably more interested in making a Relevant Point rather than entertaining. Take for instance one pod which opens “Japan has one of the highest suicide rates in the world.” Filmmaker Adam Yamaguchi admirably tries to shed light on this subject, but it’s hard not to laugh when he earnestly faces the camera with a “This is serious!” face and says, “I’ve been talking to this 18 year old who says he wants to die, and I asked him if he’d be willing to meet with us in person, and he just wrote back to me and said that by the time we get to Japan, he’ll already be dead.” Not every pod is so grave though. One lighthearted installment attempts to look inside a newlywed couple’s marriage, but the segment seems cutesy and bland, like maybe what we’d find on HGTV. This is the sort of programming that winds up skewered on the Daily Show — which is not, I imagine, how the execs hoped to reach its audience.
On the plus side, the pod format is innovative, and the integration of the network with its homepage is impressive (the website provides live-updating info on when the next several pods will air). Also welcomed is a nifty onscreen progress bar that lets us know when any given pod will be ending (and believe me, it’s often more exciting than the pod’s actual content). Interstitials like the top ten Google queries containing “Naughty” are amusing and a few pods (such as one focusing on new trends in pre-fab homes) seem to be of a higher production caliber than the rest. Still, at the end of the day, it might be more effective to be connected, not current.