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Case Number 22854: Small Claims Court

Buy How The States Got Their Shapes: Season One at Amazon

How The States Got Their Shapes: Season One

History Channel // 2011 // 420 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge David Johnson // December 3rd, 2011

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All Rise...

Judge David Johnson got his shape through a steady regimen of sit-ups and Ring Dings.

Editor's Note

Our review of How the States Got Their Shapes: Season Two, published July 31st, 2013, is also available.

The Charge

Border? I barely even knew her!

The Case

"I swear I've seen this guy before, but I can't quite place him" personality Brian Unger headlines a History Channel series that on paper sounds like it could be lethally boring, but in practice is something like 30 percent boring, 60 percent interesting, and 10 percent condescending.

Here's the gist: For ten episodes, Unger travels the entire United States, stopping to chat with locals and experts, drawing out state-specific anecdotes and documenting why the country has been laid out as it has.

It sounds like a chore and there certainly were some times when I was wondering how much further they carry on talking about Kentucky's borders. To make matters worse, Unger and company appear to have chosen the biggest imbeciles for their man-on-the-street interviews (not doing the America populace any favors there, History Channel!). But there's something about this show that works.

The best way to look at How the States Got Their Shapes is as a general interest documentary on the history of America. It's not all about borders; Unger gets into folklore, politics, religion, accents, family feuds, natural resources, and even gigantic hurricanes. While the greater arc is seeing how the U.S. got carved up the way it did, these cultural bits and pieces help draw a nice picture of the diversity—both geographical and personal—of our country.

Unger serves his hosting duties well. As a journalist and former correspondent for The Daily Show, he embodies the perfect point man for this type of series; he's funny, personable, and can articulate the facts and history with ease and clarity. Sometimes, though, it does feel like he's talking down to his audience (and judging by the people he talks to on the street, why wouldn't he think we're all a bunch of mouth-breathers watching?). I'll chalk that up to the show's producers thinking they're too cool for school.

Which, by the way, strikes me as a perfect use for this series—in schools. Mainlining these episodes would likely cause most anyone to slumber, but in small doses and connected to a overall lesson plan, I can see How the States Got Their Shapes offering a nice change of pace for a harried U.S. History teacher.

The DVD offering is highlighted by solid technical specifications, starting with a clean 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer, a 2.0 stereo mix, and capped off with the original feature-length How the States Got Their Shapes documentary, presented in all of its fake widescreen glory.

The Verdict

Not Guilty.

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Scales of Justice

Judgment: 80

Perp Profile

Studio: History Channel
Video Formats:
• 1.78:1 Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
• English (CC)
Running Time: 420 Minutes
Release Year: 2011
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
• Documentary
• Historical
• Television

Distinguishing Marks

• Documentary


• IMDb
• Official Site

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