A&E // 2009 // 329 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Victor Valdivia (Retired) // May 19th, 2010
A fascinating look inside the lives of people whose inability to part with their belongings is out of control.
What, exactly, is the point of Hoarders? Is it supposed to serve as an examination of a serious psychological disorder? Mostly, it just seems to function as a geek-show oddity for people to gawk at and get grossed out. There are a few token gestures at addressing the psychological roots of hoarding and obsessive-compulsive disorder, but the show glosses over those in order to just traffic in the worst kind of cheap sensationalism.
Over seven episodes (compiled on two discs), Hoarders: The Complete Season One presents two cases per episode of people who have amassed collections of junk, trash, and, in one case, cats. These are not just some cluttered shelves, scattered belongings, or packed closets. We're talking wall-to-wall-to-ceiling mountains of stuff that prevents them from really enjoying any day-to-day activities like cooking, reading, or sleeping. Some hoarders archive piles and piles of food, even perishable items, without throwing any of it away or using it. Some collect scrap metal, cheap plastic gifts, or home improvement tools. One lady even amasses neighborhood cats, so many she doesn't even know the exact number (the final tally: nearly eighty). Many of them are facing turning points in their lives because of their hoarding, such as threatened eviction, loss of children and property, and even jail time. The Hoarders producers interview the hoarders, their families and friends, and, when relevant, law enforcement authorities, and then sends professional therapists and organizers to help the hoarders clean out their homes and attempt to reassess their lives.
This all sounds very helpful. At least, it would be, except that the timeframe for each case is all of two days. The show continuously harps on the idea that hoarding is a severe mental affliction, on par with addiction and schizophrenia. The interstitial titles say it, the therapists, psychologists, and organizers who appear say it, and the hoarders themselves say it. So what on earth is two days' work going to do? Two days isn't enough time, in virtually all of the cases, to even begin to clean out the necessary amount of clutter and garbage to save the hoarders from divorce/eviction/losing custody of their children/jail, let alone begin a necessary course of therapy to ensure that the hoarders attempt to change their lives.
The answer, of course, is that the timeframe isn't there to help the hoarders -- it's there to help the show's producers. The accelerated time limit ensures plenty of camera-friendly tantrums, meltdowns, and near-fistfights. Forget the token gestures of deep meaning the show attempts-the text titles with somber music, the talking-head interviews with weeping relatives, the DVD set's ludicrously pompous liner notes -- because this is nothing more than carefully designed train-wreck TV pure and simple. The hoarders are edited for maximum humiliation (Look! They're throwing tantrums over filthy garbage!), the houses are filmed for maximum titillation (Look! That hoarder is living in a house full of filthy garbage!), and the show comes off as so phony and contrived that it's entirely possible that some (many? all?) of the participants are hamming it up for the cameras. Of course, it's no surprise that given the time rush and general lack of in-depth analysis, exactly one of the profiled hoarders is actually helped, and there's even some doubt that he really counts as a hoarder rather than just a messy slob. God forbid that Hoarders' producers actually spend the time and money to profile one hoarder over an extended period of time to see how real therapy works; that would entail patience and sensitivity, two qualities the show sorely lacks. The only real winner here, apart from A&E, is the overpriced junk-hauling company 1-800-GOT-JUNK, whose hauling trucks are prominently featured in every episode, presumably as part of some sponsorship deal. Good to know the show's producers have their priorities in order.
What it comes down to is this: Hoarders is a fraud. If hoarding really is a mental disorder requiring serious medical help, then the show is shamefully exploiting psychologically disturbed people for cheap shock value and ratings while only pretending to help them. If the hoarders profiled here are really just fame whores who wanted to appear on TV for kicks, then the show is nothing more than Keeping Up with the Kardashians with significantly more rats, garbage, and human excrement (and at least E! doesn't pretend that the Kardashians' show is a thoughtful examination of a serious problem). In either case, Hoarders is easily one of the most revolting and unpleasant experiences ever captured on TV. There are almost no redeeming features here and no reason whatsoever for anyone to sit through this drivel. Which means, of course, that since Hoarders' first season set basic cable ratings records, A&E will make a mint. What was it P.T. Barnum said about the taste of the American public again?
The DVD is typical reality-show quality: non-anamorphic 1.78:1 transfer, stereo sound mix, both satisfactory. The set comes with additional footage (21:13), which mostly presents even more squalor and screaming for your, uh, delectation. Dig in. Or whatever.
Guilty of astoundingly crass exploitation.
Review content copyright © 2010 Victor Valdivia; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 1.78:1 Non-Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 329 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Bonus Footage