This DVD nearly drove Judge Ike Oden to give away his 27 cats to animal protection.
Our review of Hoarders: The Complete Season One, published May 19th, 2010, is also available.
A&E takes a dramatic look inside the lives of people struggling to overcome compulsive hoarding…
Hoarders is a reality series that takes a look at, well, hoarders—people who compulsively buy items, save trash, and live in pack rat squalor at the expense of their family, friends, and health. A&E documents the obsessive compulsive disorders of thirteen subjects in Hoarders: Season Two, Part One, bringing in professional counselors, organizers, and a hauling crew to guide these coveting collectors through a two day crash course in recovery.
The set contains seven episodes from the first half of Season Two. Disc One spotlights Augustine, Judi and Gail, Chris and Dale, and Bob and Richard. Disc Two continues with Judi and Shannon, Deborah and Jim, and Linda and Todd.
Hoarders is as addictive as a reality show can get. Part of the appeal for me is having known multiple hoarders in my lifetime, people whose houses were a constant chaotic mess of randomly organized, often utterly useless items. Many of my childhood memories are of visiting friends and relatives who collected anything and everything, often to the point where it was difficult to move around the house. Thanks to Hoarders, these once repressed memories have again come back to haunt me with a vengeance, sparking a cleaning and sorting spree that lasted roughly three days. While my reaction might be an extreme case, it is a testament to just how effective the content of Hoarders is.
Given my deadline, I was forced to view the show in a two night marathon session, which successfully kept my brain fried for the remainder of the week. Every hoarding subject is different and unique in his or her own way, but after three hour marathon sessions their habitats all start to blur together. What is most memorable is the people themselves and how they react to their therapy. The subjects shape the tone of each episode, offering a fairly diverse batch of episodes.
To offer a sample of the episodic range, we'll compare subjects Dale and Judi. Dale is a flamboyant art collector whose hobby turned to hoarding. He brings a sense of humor and irony to his episode, with self-deprecation and sexual innuendo used to break the tension of his situation. His episode's a ton of fun to watch, simply because he's so engaged in the therapy process. At the opposite end of the spectrum is Judi, a 66 year old tech writer who loses the ability to walk after falling into and getting stuck in a doorway filled with her own waste. Through it all, she remains detached from her therapy, her house is torn down, and her family refuses to let her move in with them, making for a real heartbreaker of an episode.
If you haven't figured it out by now, Hoarders can be as depressing and shocking a show as you're likely to find, offering short-term quick fixes to people in desperate need of long-term counseling. The crew, counselors, and organizers swoop in to spear head cleaning the homes, usually against a two day time limit. In exchange, the subject must supervise the cleanup and face their addiction head-on, cooperating with mental health professions.
This seems to be comparable to a first step on the road to recovery. Some episodes end with genuine catharsis for their subjects, and some climax more bleakly. Most of the protagonists are forced to deal with families who have been emotionally gutted by hoarding. Health departments threaten to take children away, grown sons and daughters struggle to face childhood memories of living in sub-human conditions, and a whole lot of domestic drama typically ensues.
The set's final episode features a perfect example of this—Deborah's hoarding is fed by her husband's overt alcoholism and suicidal tendencies. Her husband claims vice versa. The two repress their emotions for the bulk of the episode, while the couple's eight-year-old son struggles to work through them on camera. While it isn't the only episode to deal with hoarding's effect on children, it is the one with the rawest emotions, as most of Hoarders supporting subjects seem numb to the oddity that is living in a landfill.
Which brings us to the question: Does Hoarders exploit these people's pain for the sake of ratings? The answer is greyer than you'd think. The reality television format offers us a look at real people whose lives are manipulated through time, presentation, and narrative by filmmaking techniques. Hoarders does this, and does it well. Sure, the choices the series' producers make are obvious—overdramatic musical stings, white-on-black title cards, and cliché post-production camera effects are the order of the day—but damned if they aren't effective. Hoarders is a well constructed show that wants nothing more than to keep you watching. To this end, it is great reality television.
But is it amoral in its approach and depiction of these people? After long debates with my better half, I have to admit that, yes, indeed it is. While the show's therapy is well-meaning, it is also a shallow process. On the plus side, it consistently confronts hoarders with their problem without ever traumatically forcing the process on them. While it feels as though these men and women could easily backslide into their hoarding habits following the crew's clean-up, such a risk always linger over the recovery process, which, might I add, is a constant in any reformed addict's life.
That Hoarders offers the first steps to recovery is a great thing. I only wish the set would follow-up with the reformed hoarders, to give the audience some sort of confirmation that this process might actually be working for them.
If there is a bone I have to pick with Hoarders: Season Two, Part One, it is in the show's inclusion of minors as supporting protagonists. When you're the child of someone who is an addict, is mentally ill, or has some sort of parenting malfunction, it calls into question whether or not mom and dad should really have the right to sign your rights off to an audience of millions. Seeing these children grieve over their home life, dysfunctional families, and lost childhood (many cases talk about having to "grow up faster" than other kids their age) makes me feel dirty. I don't want to watch these kids suffering, and don't feel their childhood traumas should be aired on basic cable as they're freaking happening. Seriously, A&E, that's pretty messed up.
Then again, their parents are within their legal right, and so is A&E following clearance. Perhaps this is my own sensitivity. Otherwise, I feel Hoarders has its heart in the right place. More cynical reality show audiences might not find this reality show's pill as easy to swallow, which I'd argue is equally valid a point (check of Judge Victor Valdivia's review of Season One for a finely worded indictment of the show). My advice to viewers: proceed with moral caution.
A&E gives Hoarders: Season Two, Part One a typical DVD package. The non-anamorphic transfer is sharp and well detailed, but, y'know, non-anamorphic. What a drag. The stereo audio track is stellar, giving a lot of detail and presence for a show as low-tech as this. No extras are offered.
Man, I need a shower and a good cry. Not guilty.
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