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Looking for Jaw-Droppingly Bad TV? Try CBS' "Kid Nation"

Sometimes I do feel as though I am a glutton for punishment. Case in point: the fact that I actually sat down to watch CBS' horrific reality series/child labor law violation Kid Nation in an effort to bring you, my readers, a complete picture of just what's going on in television. (I will, however, admit that I didn't waste my time watching it at night but caught it the following day.)

Say what you want about the egregious violations of child labor laws and about the fact that these children's parents willingly signed away their rights during this production, but the truth is that Kid Nation is just mind-bogglingly bad television. I do wish I could understand the mindset of both the producers who thought up this exercise in craptacularness as well as the CBS programming and development executives who believed that adults would tune in to see a bunch of kids trying to win $20,000 gold stars and cleaning out latrines in a desert town. (I also don't understand why they'd pair it with lead-out Criminal Minds, which opened with shots of gruesome corpses seconds after Kid Nation ended.)

The premise: 40 adorable moppets are given the chance to fend for themselves in a New Mexico ghost town to see if they can create a working, orderly society better than the adults who tried and failed to make the same town in the past. Hmmm, so are producers saying that Bonanza City (teehee!) was, er, a real town at some point? I'm not entirely sure, but from the "authentic" historical diaries that the kids discover, it sure seems like some producer went out of their way to make the kids think so.

Along the way, the kids compete in way-too-confusing challenges (the premiere episode featured something about pumping colored-water from pipes) to determine who will complete what job within the new society: upper class (um, sure), merchants, cooks, and laborers. That last category should have been called "slaves" in my opinion considering what they are making eight-year-olds do, but, hey, at least they get paid ten cents for their troubles. Kids squabble, cry, and complain about anything and everything. They go rabbit hunting, cook meals, and try to organize themselves. At various points, irritating host Jonathan Karsh pops up to taunt them with prizes or advance the "story," at one point giving Gold Star winner Sophia a key to a locked building containing the only phone in Bonanza City. (How can this man sleep at night?)

I watched the episode with my jaw on the floor. Kid Nation has got to be one of the most appalling, exploitative concepts on television to date, yet it attempts to wear its earnestness on its sleeve, believing that it is a worthy "social experiment," rather than a demeaning way to sell advertising. Sure, the premiere was presented with limited commercial interruption but I couldn't help but see the haunting faces of little pre-teen indentured servants every time a commercial break came on.

But leave aside the legal and moral issues surrounding the series and the biggest horror of Kid Nation is the fact that it's just bad, mawkish television disguised as social-minded entertainment. And no amount of gold stars, however valuable, can change that.

Kid Nation airs Wednesday nights at 8 pm ET/PT on CBS.

What's On Tonight

8 pm: Ghost Whisperer (CBS); 1 vs. 100 (NBC); Friday Night SmackDown (CW; 8-10 pm); America's Funniest Home Videos (ABC); Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader? (FOX)

9 pm: The Unit (CBS); Las Vegas (NBC); 20/20 (ABC); Nashville (FOX)

10 pm: NUMB3RS (CBS); Law & Order: Special Victims Unit (NBC); 20/20 (ABC)

What I'll Be Watching

8 pm: Doctor Who on Sci Fi.

This week on Doctor Who ("Utopia"), Captain Jack Harkness (of Torchwood fame) returns when the TARDIS makes a visit to Cardiff; the Doctor encounters a professor at the end of the universe. Is the Doctor really the very last Time Lord? Find out tonight.


The CineManiac said…
I have to disagree with you. I think this may be my guilty pleasure of the year. I agree that it's amazing that these kids parents signed them up for this, but I think it's fascinating watching these kids try to run a society with no adults.
Maybe I'm a sucker for kids, but I'd be lying if I said some of the kids didn't tug at my heartstrings. And I was sad to see Jimmy leave the town, although I understood an 8 year old missing his family.
I hope I'm not alone in having enjoyed this show.
Carrie said…
I really enjoyed it as well. Watching those (pretty incredible) kids work together and help each other makes up for any faults in the production. I mean, the council gave Sophia the gold star immediately after she bad-mouthed them! Name one adult reality contestant that would do the same thing. I was very impressed by that.

I hope it doesn't turn ugly now that they know there's money at stake, however.
Anonymous said…
Sorry Jace, but...

I am with Cinemaniac. I thought it was enjoyable. I thought they did a great job casting the kids and I have to say - maybe I am a sucker, but I fell for it. I didn't know what to expect and was expecting more of a lord of the flies, but I like this conceit of showing kids working together and being able to keep themselves afloat. Maybe it's still the lingering idealist in me, but I think there are a lot of adults who could take a lesson from these kids. They are certainly more mature and level-headed than some people I know.

I will see where it goes (though, it's going to be hard to watch w/o Jimmy being there - everything that came out of that kid's mouth was gold), and who knows if it will get old or still stay entertaining, but I am willing to go with it.

Ducks, runs and turns off my IM.
Anonymous said…
I don't really want to defend Jonathan Karsh, the host, who I do admit was pretty flat, terrible, and didn't care about the kids at all (it almost seemed like he was egging Jimmy on to leave). But Jonathan was not the original host of the show. In fact, when the original talent fell out (a choice so bizarre, it would have amped up the creepiness), the producers had to turn within at the eleventh Hour. Jonathan was a supervising producer of Kid Nation and the EP's auditioned several staffers before deciding on Jonathan. So it's not his fault he sucked. Though he did.
The CineManiac said…
I almost forgot about that. I too was astonished when they still gave Sophia the gold star. I really thought she had lost in when she stood up against the council.
Seriously in what adult show would that still happen.

Also I'm glad to see I wasn't the only one enjoying it.
Anonymous said…
If they are selling this as an earnest social experiment about kids trying to form a working society then why bring in the "cash prize" element?
Dani In NC said…
I enjoyed the show as well, partly because I viewed it in the proper context. This is a show for kids or kids and parents to discuss together. The "social experiment" hype went right over my head; I didn't take that part seriously at all. I'm watching this purely as entertainment. My only problem with the show is the time slot. This should be on a Saturday at 7p and definitely not as a lead-in for Criminal Minds.
Anonymous said…
Um...slaves? Child labor? Whatever. It's sickening to think that people get offended over the idea of children actually doing something. These kids can learn responsibility from this experience and whatever they do on this show could help them out a lot in life.

The show's not great but as far as reality shows go, it's NOT a poor excuse for one, as it actually teaches these kids something about themselves.

Sorry man but you're terribly mistaken here. To each his own though.
It's definitely child labour. CBS used a legal loophole to get around child labour laws that would, for example, have limited the amount of time the children were allowed to shoot for. These laws apply to every other TV production and are there to stop children being exploited. The loophole has since been closed and so there will never be another show like this one.
Anonymous said…
I think it is an awesome show.
Too many people refuse to believe that kids are people too and CAN do things for themselves.
If you don't like it, don't watch it, real simple really :)

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