Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Series Premiere Review: Kid Nation

Kid Nation [s1 ep01]: "I'm Trying to Be a Leader Here"

*** Spoiler Warning ***

Key Points of Series Premiere

  • Forty kids between the ages of eight and 15 are dropped off in the New Mexico desert to caravan to an old west ghost town called Bonanza City where they will create their own society, without the assistance of their family or any other adults, and live there for 40 days. Thirty-six of them are dropped off at the caravan point by school bus. The other four are helicoptered in and are introduced as the group's pre-selected Town Council.

  • Later on in the episode, the town is divided into four color-coded districts, with each Town Council member in charge of a district.
    Mike, 11, a boy scout from Washington state, gets the Red District.
    Taylor, 10, a pageant queen from Georgia, gets the Yellow District.
    Anjay, 12, a spelling bee champ from Texas, gets the Blue District.
    Laurel, 12, a student leader from Massachusetts (easy to tell from her thick Boston accent and her pride of being Irish), gets the Green District.

  • Every four days the Town Council gets to award the most deserving kid with a gold star, literally worth it's weigh in gold, equaling $20,000.

  • Despite some initial chaos, including a leg injury along the caravan, some trial-and-error with the kids cooking their own food, and the Town Council forgeting on the first day to check the chapel for a book with further instructions (as told by the host Jonathon), they division of districts brings order to things.

  • The first challenge resembled the pumping of oil from the ground using pumping towers, only they pumped colored water instead of oil. The order in which each district won determined their class and salary for the next four days.
    1st: Mike's Red District = Upper Class = $1.00 each.
    2nd: Anjay's Blue District = Merchant Class = $0.50 each.
    3rd: Taylor's Yellow District = Cook Class = $0.25 each.
    4th: Laurel's Green District = Laborer Class = $0.10 each.
    Also, by all four teams finishing in less than an hour (with literally a few seconds to spare), the Town Council got to choose between two possible prizes for the whole town: a TV or seven more outhouses (in addition to the solitary outhouse they had so far). The Council rightly chose the outhouses.

  • As the Merchant Class, the Red District got to run the town stores where kids could spend their winnings on food, drinks, games, and supplies.

  • Every few days, the pioneers gather for a Town Hall Meeting where kids get to state concerns or grievances, elect to go home if they want to, and have the $20K gold star awarded to one pioneer by the Town Council. At the first meeting, homesick Councilperson Taylor decided to tough it out and stay (to a round of applause), but youngest pioneer Jimmy insisted on going home (despite an older kid saying he's more mature than others). Despite some complaining about cooks not cleaning up after themselves, Sophia was still awarded the gold star. As part of the reward, she got to use the town's only phone to call her mom and tell her about the gold star.

Opinions and Observations

  • The chaos during supper and the unofficial town meeting reminded me a little much of my one and only year of teaching public school. Luckily, Michael, age 14 from Washington state, stepped up and gave an inspirational speech that motivated the other kids and got them to calm down and let the Council begin to organize things. Unlike an adult on a reality competition program who may have resented such unsought leadership, Councilperson Mike appreciate Michael stepping up and helping gain order.

  • I felt bad for the show's youngest pioneer named Jimmy, only eight-and-a-half years old from New Hampshire, who started crying on the 2nd day because he was already so homesick and felt he was too young to be trying this. Then, I almost started crying when Laurel, his leader on the Green team, tried to console him and said she would do her best to substitute for his mom and dad while he was there and asked if he would give her that chance. It's that kid-sticking-up-for-up-for-kid aspect that I think is going to make this show so cool.

  • A couple of the 14 & 15 year old kids from Blue District wrote graffiti on bunkhouses of other districts. I liked it when their fellow teammate Alex, 9 years old from Nevada, said the graffiti was stupid, juvenile, two-year-old behavior. When Greg, the oldest pioneer and ring leader of the graffiti hoodlums asked if the homesick Jimmy wanted to be his "new wingman," even Jimmy had the good sense to say no.

  • I liked that Sophia, a Green District 14-year-old from Florida, stepped up when it came to cooking (at least until the Yellow District came in 3rd place in the challenge and, consequently, took over as the town cooks for the next four days). She was also ambitious enough to entertain for tips, helping her afford the general store's bicycle which cost $3.00, when she only started off with 10 cents. Sophia had to step up again and prod kids into cleaning up when the Yellow District refused to clean after they were done cooking.

  • Despite Sophia under-estimating the Yellow District's cooking abilities, they did really well. I liked that Sophia was able to admit they did a good job and that kids starting cheering for the good job the Yellow District did.

  • This show has earned some controversy, but it doesn't look that bad to me. I think the experiment of having 40 kids build their own society is big enough, so mixing it with the inhabitation of an old west town does go a little far sometimes. For instance, 40 kids having only one outhouse at first seems a little extreme. It also seems weird that kids were sleeping on floors in sleeping bags and that the first challenge involved water when it appeared the weather was chilly when the show was being filmed. Beyond these nitpicks and some other off-camera mishaps that may have happened even with adults around, I'd say the show, when it comes to living conditions and adult presense, isn't too different from summer camp.

Hopes, Concerns, or Expectations for New Season

  • One pioneer named Leila, a nine year old on the Yellow District team, is from my home state of North Carolina. So, I'll probably root for her automatically.

  • Despite the controversy about this show's handling of child labor and lack of adult supervision, I think it's a relatively harmless show, and I find some of the ways the kids support each other to be uplifting. Sophia and her mom's reactions to her winning the $20K gold star are really genuine and heart-warming. Even graffiti hooldum Greg gave Sophia a hug and said he wanted to win a gold star too. This was one my most anticipated fall shows, and I'm going to continue giving it a chance.

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