Judge Erich Asperschlager wants you to believe he got his shape from a border dispute, but it was mostly Doritos.
Our review of How The States Got Their Shapes: Season One, published December 3rd, 2011, is also available.
"One country, 50 separate states. What unites us, and what really divides us? The history is hidden in our map, and we're putting America to the test. "
U.S. politicians talk a lot about what "the American people" think and believe, but does such a group really exist? It would certainly make things easier if we had a unified identity, but the fact is the people of the United States represent radically different ideologies, cultures, and experiences. That we operate as a single country at all is a miracle—especially considering the twists and turns in our nation's history from the earliest settlers up to today.
One of the easiest ways to track America's changes is through our geography. From colonies to independence to a world superpower the United States has grown and expanded, carving out the 50 individual states that make up our country. Back in 2011, the History Channel examined those growing pains in the fun and informative series How the States Got Their Shapes, hosted by Brian Unger (formerly of The Daily Show). While the first season focused primarily on the question posed by the show's title, Season Two changed focus and format from hourlong to half-hour episodes and from stories about borders to a lighthearted look at our cultural differences.
How the States Got Their Shapes: Season Two on DVD has nineteen episodes, split across three discs:
Each Season Two episode pits one American group or region against another, combining quiz segments with animated exposition examining where we are and how we got there. After the meaty history lessons of Season One, the reality game show feel is a little disappointing. The focus on the conflicts that dominate modern political discourse feels like History is catering to the lowest common denominator. Then again, that's coming from a white male East Coast liberal. After you get into the rhythm of the second season's "versus" gimmick, you'll find plenty of educational and entertainment value.
Along with grade school refreshers on the Louisiana Purchase and the Gold Rush, How the States Got Their Shapes tackles hot button topics like religion, vice, and money. Brian Unger moderates on-location trivia competitions with contestants on opposite sides of the issue: liberal and conservative, Christian and atheist, Cubs and White Sox fans, Pittsburgh union leader and tea party activist, Hatfield and McCoy. Thanks to Unger's charm and (I imagine) careful contestant selection, it's all in good fun—another way the show sets itself apart from the reality TV rabble.
How the States Got Their Shapes on DVD has a standard 1.78:1, 2.0 Stereo presentation—a fine way to experience the colorful graphics and local scenery. The main bonus feature is a 24-minute collection of additional material about how California, Florida, Illinois, Maine, Montana, Nevada, Texas, Utah, Washington D.C., and West Virginia got their shapes. The featurettes are a combination of existing and extended material from both seasons of the show. The stories aren't brand new, but they are packaged in a nice bite-sized way. The set's other extra is an double-length version of the season finale, "The United Shapes of America. " The episode is partly a clip show, repeating footage from earlier in the seasons, cut together with some new material. It's a good overview of the nation as a whole. It's just not as exciting as if it was a brand new episode.
History buffs, the generally curious, and parents looking to trick their kids into learning while watching TV should check out How the States Got Their Shapes. There's a little more fluff in this streamlined second season than there was in the first, but Brian Unger and his crew cover a lot of ground—and if you've ever looked at a map of the United States, you know how much ground there is to cover.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: History Channel
• Extended Episode
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