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Case Number 14073

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30 Days: The Complete Second Season

Arts Alliance America // 2008 // 288 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Ian Visser (Retired) // July 16th, 2008

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All Rise...

Judge Ian Visser changes jobs every 30 days. He calls it "free spirited," but his parole officer calls it "suspicious."

Editor's Note

Our reviews of 30 Days: The Complete First Season (published August 2nd, 2006) and 30 Days: The Complete Series (published June 13th, 2010) are also available.

The Charge

"Getting shanked, getting raped…those are things to be worried about."
—Morgan Spurlock, before entering prison for thirty days.

Opening Statement

Can thirty days really change your life?

Facts of the Case

Following the success of his Oscar-nominated documentary Supersize Me, director Morgan Spurlock turned his attention to a similar exercise on the small screen. The first season of 30 Days chronicled the adventures of ordinary people who radically changed their lifestyles for a month, tackling such topics as minimum wage, aging, binge drinking, and living "off the grid."

The show has been a popular offering on the FX Network, enough so that a second season (and now a third) was given the green light. 30 Days: The Complete Second Season is now available on DVD with six new episodes designed to shake up people's perceptions.

The Evidence

The episodes included in 30 Days: The Complete Second Season are:

"New Age"
This is arguably the most entertaining episode of the bunch. Hard-charging Tom, an overworked and bad-tempered salesman, puts himself in the hands of a life coach for thirty days. During the experience he will attempt to correct his stressed-out ways through alternative or "new age" treatments, including acupuncture, Reiki healing, chanting, and fire-walking.

Despite a girlfriend that is reluctant to see him embrace the "black magic" elements of the therapy, Tom quickly immerses himself in the movement and finds new ways to channel his anger and frustration. Tom is the quintessential American tough guy, and watching him struggle through yoga and interpretative dance classes, all the time maintaining a surprisingly positive attitude, makes for great television.

Grade: A

"Immigrants"
Frank is a Cuban immigrant who legally came to America as a child. Now that he's here, he has a real problem with those who would break the law to come to his country. A border-guarding member of the Minutemen, Frank agrees to spend thirty days with the Gonzalez family, Mexican immigrants working illegally in Los Angeles. Now one of eight people sharing a tiny apartment, Frank will surrender his documents and work with the patriarch of the family in manual day labor.

Despite his hard-held opinions on immigration, Frank undergoes something of a transformation during his time with the Gonzalez's. He identifies closely with their daughter Amida, who struggles to be the first in her family to attend college. Frank also travels to Mexico to meet the children's grandparents and record video messages from them. It's the most affecting episode of the season and demonstrates how significantly a personal experience can alter opinion and values.

Grade: A-

"Jail"
Let's go to prison! Host Morgan Spurlock gets sentenced to thirty days hard time in a Virginia jail and the cameras are on-hand to record the experience. Although he anticipates a month of fear and violence, Spurlock instead gets paralyzing boredom coupled with disbelief at the current state of the system. Spurlock chronicles the awful food, mentally ill inmates, and over-crowded cells that make up the average American prison.

"Jail" is an eye-opening experience that benefits from Spurlock's quick wit and insightful observations. The average viewer who has never experienced the jail environment will likely be surprised as to the nature of the conditions, and how "rehabilitation" turns out to be an idea used to justify public spending on a system that makes a lot of private businesses wealthy.

The only downside to "Jail" is that watching a dull situation can often be just as dull for the viewer as for the protagonist. Spurlock does inject as much life and interest into the subject as he can, but the episode relies on one's ignorance of the prison system to create surprises more than on any particular event that Spurlock must endure.

Grade: B+

"Atheist vs. Christian"
What happens when an atheist spends thirty days with a family of born-again Texan Christians? Not much, as it turns out. One of the duds of season two, "Atheist vs. Christian" proves that somebody who doesn't believe in God can be just as stubborn and close-minded as someone who does. Instead of an insightful discussion on the role of religion in America, we get people who simply shake their heads at each other and make little effort to understand where they are each coming from.

It feels like Spurlock and company seriously miscalculated on this one; while religious beliefs (or lack of them) are among the most significant values people hold, the producers seem to have underestimated how closed the average person is to being challenged on them. The result is some dull and uninteresting television.

Grade: C

"Outsourcing"
Chris is an American computer programmer who lost his job to an outsourcing firm in India. Now unemployed, Chris travels to the booming city of Bangalore to determine if his skills qualify him for an outsourced job. Living and working with a family of call center employees, he will try to learn how and why this change in the global workforce is taking place.

"Outsourcing" is probably the least-informative episode in this collection. The movement of American jobs to India is a story that is at least a decade old, and anyone with a basic grasp of what has been going on in the technology world will already know most of the information conveyed here. The episode also suffers from a heavy focus on the "culture shock" elements of Chris' visit, and tends to spend too much time on the non-business elements of the exchange.

Grade: C

"Pro-life, Pro-choice"
Like the "Christian" episode, "Pro-life, Pro-choice" suffers by choosing one of the most contentious issues in America to address. Jennifer, a pro-choice clinic worker, spends a month with a couple who take in expectant mothers in order to prevent them from having abortions.

As with the "Atheist vs. Christian" episode, the participants are so dug-in and unmovable from their positions that nobody really makes any progress towards understanding or empathy. Did Spurlock really expect that a lifelong opponent of abortion (and a pastor, to boot) would alter his views simply because of close contact with a pro-choice activist? Although we learn a good deal about the tactics of anti-abortion activists and how individual states attempt to subvert the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision, it is far from entertaining. Rather, it seems like those involved are simply waiting for the clock to run out so they can return to their own lives.

Grade: D

As with season one, the second season of 30 Days varies greatly in the quality department. In most cases it's the result of the participants; those involved in the abortion and religion episodes are so shrill and determined not to be influenced by others that they cause the shows to drag like an anchor. By contrast, the immigration and "new age" efforts are the best of the season, being fronted by protagonists that are open and willing to immerse themselves in alternative ideas and situations.

On the technical side, 30 Days: The Complete Second Season disappoints. The show is shot on digital video in natural light, and much of it looks washed-out and dull as a result. Spurlock's individual interludes in each episode are of better quality, but these only account for a minimum of the running time. The audio is standard 2-channel Dolby Digital, but there is a notable hiss on a couple of the episodes that is very audible and distracting. These are check disks, so it is possible this will be addressed before the final release.

Special features are also limited. Where season one offered four audio commentaries, 30 Days: The Complete Second Season only provides two, on the "Immigration" and "Jail" episodes, respectively. Both of these commentaries are round-table discussions featuring Spurlock, various producers, and cast members. These are casual sessions, but they still manage to convey a lot of behind-the-scenes information on the challenges surrounding the making of the show.

The Rebuttal Witnesses

Only six episodes per season? I understand that the production of this show requires some additional effort above and beyond the typical "reality" show, but it still feels like a pretty light collection. A couple of additional episodes would go a long way to making this set more worthy of a purchase.

Closing Statement

Despite its brevity, several episodes of 30 Days: The Complete Second Season are great examples of how entertaining the series can be. Skip the religion and abortion examples and this set will seem much stronger to the average viewer.

The Verdict

Despite its shortcomings, this defendant is found "not guilty."

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Scales of Justice

Video: 76
Audio: 74
Extras: 50
Story: 83
Judgment: 82

Perp Profile

Studio: Arts Alliance America
Video Formats:
• Full Frame
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Subtitles:
• None
Running Time: 288 Minutes
Release Year: 2008
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Genres:
• Reality TV
• Television

Distinguishing Marks

• Commentaries

Accomplices

• IMDb
• DVD Verdict Review - Season One








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