Tune in to Sarah Palin’s Alaska to behold the beauty and the wonder, the harshness barely concealed beneath the glacial calm, the wildness that coexists with glowing serenity.
And the show itself is interesting, too.
Certainly this docu-series from the channel that gave us the Gosselins and the Duggars was family-friendly with cheerful aggressiveness. The debut episode, entitled “Mama Grizzly,” framed the former governor of Alaska the way it frames most of TLC’s clan narratives, with careful editing for the maximum positive representation, and with its subject issuing proclamations that are unassailably true (“I love this state like I love my family”).
The idea behind this series is to show the Palin family in its natural habitat, at home and taking road trips across the state, engaging with nature. Thus in the premiere, we saw Palin and family head into “bear country for some salmon fishing,” thereby capturing two or three species for the price of one adventure. There was some wonderful footage of the bears and their cubs (give the show credit: it’s the one time the term “mama grizzly” is used), and I am a sucker for fishing on (or outside of) TV — doesn’t matter who’s behind the reel, I’ll watch ‘em cast and pull in a few of our finny friends.
There was a subplot that’s a subtext to Sarah Palin’s Alaska, however: That darned ol’ media and its inescapability. The hour spent more time that I’d have though it would with shots of, and Palin’s comments on, the house that author Joe McGinniss has commandeered to keep close tabs on the Palins while writing an unauthorized book about them.
The subject is initially brought up casually, without mention of McGinniss’ name, as though the entire TLC viewership knows all about the mini-controversy. Palin refers to their “new neighbor”; husband Todd describes the author as “writing a hit piece on my wife.” Todd has erected a fence to block McGinniss’ view, and then Palin cannot resist a political spin on the effort: “This is what we need to do to protect our nation’s borders.”
“Is he takin’ picture?” Sarah asks Todd and her family, peering over at the house at that “dude out to git-cha!” (McGinniss’ face is hidden from our view.) “It’s none of his flippin’ business!” she yips. At this point, she’s starting to seem a tad obsessed… and remember, this is on a show designed to make her look good, to look like an ordinary wife and mother. She decides to use the presence of McGinniss as a teaching moment: “He’s stuck inside writin’ an ugly book,” she tells her children, while the Palins, by contrast, are out exploring the wonders of Alaska. That is, whenever she’s not in her home TV studio, connecting with Fox News in New York and trading talking points with Bill O’Reilly. (We see Todd manning the camera.)
Granted, most of us could not afford the huge bus or private planes the Palins take to sally forth on their adventures, but it is fun and impressive to see Sarah and Todd go rock climbing. She struggles mightily against a side of rock that would leave me quailing and ready to give up, but Palin persists and succeeds. This is Sarah at her most winning. There are also moments when we see glimpses of her parenting, as when she prevents a male friend of daughter Willow’s to follow the girl up to her bedroom, that are briskly efficient. (This, despite the fact that the boy sneaks a run upstairs anyway before Palin calls them downstairs.)
Just as the early, pre-scandal days of Jon + Kate Plus 8 had an agenda (in that case, it was “large families are super-great!”), so does Sarah Palin’s Alaska, which turns out to be, “large families are super-great, so why are we persecuted?” There’s a needless air of embattled pride here that mars the otherwise-lovely surroundings.
Did you watch Sarah Palin’s Alaska?