On Sunday, TLC unveiled its highly anticipated and already heavily scrutinized Sarah Palin's Alaska, a series, it turns out, that is part travelogue, bigger part celebrity-family reality show.
Not so unlike Keeping Up with the Kardashians or The Osbournes, shows which ask viewers to relate to universal family dynamics amid the excesses, Sarah Palin's Alaska is nothing if not a showcase for just how ordinary and typical Sarah Palin's brood is. Mom might have a makeshift TV studio built into her home so she can beam in for guest appearances on The O'Reilly Factor. She also might soon be running for president, but the Palin household? It's just like yours.
Take the Palin kids. The former governor of Alaska, along with executive producer Mark Burnett, present for inspection Sarah as sweatsuit-wearing working mom. As a result, her kids are given ample screen time -- whether they want it or not. Here's how two of the five -- Piper, 9, and Willow, 16 — come off in the premiere:
In the show's first scene, Sarah, her daughter Piper, and her niece McKinley, are spending quality time together making cupcakes. Piper calls her mom "Sarah," which Sarah explains to viewers is Piper's way of asserting herself amid her four siblings. (When she calls over to "Sarah" to ask what a quarter-cup is, Sarah is distracted and misses it.) Piper licks batter off spoons, a whisk and her fingers, and when her mom tells her it's "disgusting," she plunges her licked spoon into the bowl and stirs with greater zeal.
Later, Piper tells an interviewer behind the camera, "My mom is super-busy. She is addicted to the BlackBerry. She's like, 'Hang on, Piper; I'll be there in a second.' When she doesn't have cell phone service, she doesn't have to answer email and all that stuff."
Then there's Willow, who Sarah says is "a typical teenager" uninterested in chores. She ignores her mom while trying to duck the cameras. In one scene, she disappears to her room at the top of the stairs, leaving her male friend, Andy, downstairs with her mom. Sarah tells Andy that the gate which prevents her youngest son Trig from getting upstairs also marks it off as a "no boys" zone. Andy hops over it anyways and Sarah calls up to Willow and says, "I'm going to count to 3." Willow's side of the argument goes something like "Mom. Mom. Mom!"
Later, Willow declines to go mountain climbing with her parents. "My back hurts and I don't feel like it," she says, covering her face with her hand when her mom and the camera crew approach. Sarah gives her a kiss goodbye and says, knowingly, "You always make stuff up." Unlike Piper, Willow is not featured doing interviews for the camera.
The kids are sandwiched between some overt politics — Sarah's neighbor is an author who she says is writing an exposé on her; she tapes an appearance for Bill O'Reilly — and unquestionably stunning scenery. When the Palins go salmon fishing, a pack of brown bears hunt alongside them; in another vignette, Sarah and Todd are rewarded with a majestic view after they scale one of Alaska's more challenging mountains.
But despite the brushes with nature, calling the show Sarah Palin's Alaska is a bit of a misnomer. In the end, it's hard not to look at this endeavor as a strategic one. The Republican presidential primaries are a little more than a year away, and Sarah Palin wants us to see her as a normal working mom, more Main Street than Wall Street, if you will.
Whether offering up her kids for this effort will help her candidacy remains to be seen. Willow's obvious discomfort with the cameras says more than any anti-Palin screed could. But for the record, we're with her; we're not sold on this Alaskan adventure.
What did you think of Sarah Palin's Alaska?