Hittin’ the tube

Pub date August 19, 2009
WriterCheryl Eddy
SectionArts & CultureSectionTrash

THE DRUG ISSUE After watching hours of Intervention — A&E’s reality show that profiles addicts, their families, and their painful first steps toward recovery — I concluded that junkies don’t watch Intervention. But if the average non-junkie watches too much Intervention, he or she will without a doubt become addicted to Intervention. So proceed cautiously.

With the exception of special "follow-up" entries, the structure of every episode (seven seasons’ worth) is similar. First you meet the addict (alcoholic, crack smoker, heroin injector, bulimic, huffer, pill-popper, meth-taker, overshopper, excessive video gamer, etc.) and take stock of his or her increasingly fucked-up life (job and/or marriage lost, homeless, secret stripping gig, custody of children taken away, threat of jail, etc.) Then you meet the loved ones (weepy grandma, terminally ill father, adorably articulate pre-teen, resentful husband, etc.) who’ve been enabling the addict for years, but are now pushed to the edge. The more compelling stories hog an entire show, but most of the time Intervention‘s intrepid editors split the hour between two unrelated yet carefully calibrated cases (for example, the plight of an anorexic single mom is cross-cut with that of a hulking rageaholic).

Rock bottom looms. But what’s that knock at the door? Why, it’s one of three Intervention-ists — mustachioed Jeff VanVonderen, redhead Candy Finnigan, or raspy-voiced Ken Seeley — here to oversee what’s inevitably an extremely emotional sit-down with the addict, who is thereafter spirited away to a recovery center. A quick post-rehab update, in the form of a sober and smiling subject (or on-screen text, in case things don’t go so well), ends each ep.

The reason I say junkies don’t watch Intervention is that they never suspect what’s in store. They all "agree to be in a documentary about addiction," which explains why they allow a camera crew to peep in as they steal medication, forge checks, fall down drunk, and so forth. But the intervention itself is always a complete surprise, suggesting that crack addicts have better things to do than watch A&E all day, or scour A&E’s Web site for newly posted tidbits. Intervention‘s popularity can be pinpointed thusly: it’s got the dramatic lure of a sensational trainwreck, but with the immense appeal of seeing a person who’s hit rock bottom turn his or her life around. Does this show inspire people to get help? Maybe. Is it exploitative? Perhaps. But one thing’s for sure: after your first Intervention viewing, you’ll be jonesin’ for more.