Judge Erich Asperschlager went to Alaska, and all he got was this lousy review.
"Alaska. I love this state like I love my family."
Over the past two years, governor cum vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin has been everywhere on TV—in interviews, as a pundit, and as the subject of any number of news stories. Just about the only place you couldn't see the polarizing, self-proclaimed hockey mom was reality TV. No more. The TLC series Sarah Palin's Alaska shows viewers the wonders of Palin's home state through the eyes of its most prominent citizen.
The nine episodes of Sarah Palin's Alaska follow the Palin family on a series of nature outings taken during a summer off from the "idiot bloggers" and news nasties who, we are constantly reminded, have made Sarah Palin's very public life difficult. Despite the chatty, schoolmarm quality of Palin's running narration, the show is primarily a travelogue, showing off Alaska's natural beauty and rugged people.
Outings and adventures include rock climbing on Mt. McKinley ("Mama Grizzly"), working on a commercial fishing boat ("Just for the Halibut"), caribou hunting ("She's A Great Shot"), white water rafting and sled dog racing ("Rafting"), cutting and processing lumber ("Logging"), and panning for gold ("Gold Mining and Oil"). Sarah and her husband, Todd, treat their recreational activities as seriously as her political life. Every minute of every day is planned out, all with the goal of spending time with—and imparting life lessons to—their kids, Piper, Willow, Bristol, Track, Trig, and Sarah's grandson Tripp. Every outing is a character building family affair, and through it all we get to know the Palin clan. There's a definite vacation video vibe, with all the rolling teenage eyes and overenthusiastic parental cheerleading one would expect. They might not be the typical American family Palin sells them as, but it's easy to see why she's so protective.
Sarah Palin's Alaska pulls the ol' reality TV trick of making the last episode a clip show. "Follow Me There" looks back at some memorable moments, with just enough new footage to justify its inclusion in already short set. The episode is punctuated with talking head segments of Sarah and her family commenting on things that happened, and viewer reactions to some of the series' most controversial moments. Lest you forget why the show exists, there's even a tease for a potential Palin 2012 presidential run. The most interesting part of the episode, though, is when Sarah and her dad look back on the much-hyped TLC crossover episode "Alaskan Hospitality," in which Kate Gosselin and her eight kids travel to Alaska to go camping with the Palins. It's every bit as awkward as it sounds. Although their kids get along, there's zero chemistry between Kate and Sarah—and the closer they get to the actual camping trip, the worse the whining gets. When Kate finally has a breakdown and abandons the rainy campsite after half a day, it's fun to watch only in that reality TV train wreck sort of way.
Spending time with Sarah Palin's family humanizes them, but it also reinforces a lot of the general perceptions about her. She's just as competitive, driven, protective, opinionated, and outspoken in her private life as she is in public. That's assuming this is an accurate representation of her private life. Palin never comes across as insincere, but she's almost always "on." Call it the Palin paradox: how much can she really hate the media if she's willing to invite a camera crew along on family-only outings?
Sarah Palin's Alaska says way more about Sarah Palin than it does about Alaska. Even in her sweet way, it's all about winning, learning life lessons, and sticking it to tree-hugging liberals. As much as I'd love to sit back and enjoy the scenery, her political jabs are a reminder that this show is about Palin first, and Alaska second. How much you enjoy yourself will depend on how much you like her.
While I can admire Palin's stance on the value of hard work, her desire to turn everything into a life lesson gets annoying. Each episode is full of people working hard, and talking about working hard. It's the kind of show that makes you feel guilty for just sitting there and watching it instead of starting a small business or building a house. The ideal demographic for Sarah Palin's Alaska is people who love travel documentaries but also think kids today are lazy.
Even if you don't appreciate Palin's personality, she's right about one thing: Alaska is beautiful. With mountains, tundra, glaciers, and pristine waterways, it's one stunning vista to another. Alaska's size and geography make it unique among states. With a small, scattered population and massive wilderness areas, living there requires a connection between humans and nature you won't find anywhere else. Sarah Palin's Alaska does a good job advocating for the state and its people. When Sarah and her dad take a prop plane into the middle of nowhere to hunt caribou, it's not a question of sport. It's about providing meat for their family. When she heads off to the local gun shop to buy a shotgun, it's not about firearm legislation, it's about being able to protect her family when they go camping in bear country. In Alaska, family togetherness isn't a matter of heart; it's a matter of survival. If nothing else, this show puts Sarah Palin's no-nonsense ferocity in much-needed context. Whether it changes your opinion about her is up to you.
The episodes on this two-disc set are presented in vibrant, 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen that comes to life in the great outdoors, with a 2.0 stereo mix and no bonus features.
Guilty of being more about the person than the place, but Palin fans will enjoy the trip.
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