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Hoarders: The Complete Season One
The cinema of cruelty and car-crash rubbernecking explodes in a huge mass of reality junk with A&E's Hoarders, and the show is every bit as pernicious and addiction-based as the problems faced by its woeful subjects. There is plenty that's grim and shameful in this pageant, and then there are the subjects of these seven 45-minute episodes. Indeed, for all the pathos and horror on display, the idea of parking it on the couch weekly to watch diseased people bare their souls for our entertainment - or even edification - feels like it takes a toll on the viewer. And yet we keep coming back for more. Interesting.
There's no denying that this is frighteningly compelling TV, even with the repetitive nature of the set-up; house is full to the brim with junk, subject struggles to clean it up, repeat. But, barring those with a legitimate interest in watching, (my wife is a part-time Organizer, for instance) the usual questions arise. Why do we like watching these people suffer? More importantly why do certain hoarders agree to take their personal shows to the national stage, especially when they all complain about feeling extreme shame and embarrassment? Lastly, it's not clear the show's format - a two-to-three day intensive whirlwind - is even a good idea, when most of the subjects would probably be better served with continuing cognitive therapy, medication, and a less stressful, more manageable clean-out of their homes.
Ahh, hell, what do we care? We really just want to see the filth, the immense amounts of bargain-priced trash, and the baffled crews from 'Got Junk?' struggling to do their jobs, and to feel a superior sense of relief about our own lives. On this show we find people who form such an emotional or irrationally pragmatic attachment to 'things' that they can't let any of it go. Often these folks are themselves, or are partnered with, people who can't stop buying stuff, due to the rush they get from either finding a bargain or simply from purchasing things. While living inside this madness, things pile up on the sufferers insidiously until it becomes impossible to conceive of starting to sort it out, let alone actually beginning the process. Overwhelming feelings, inertia and shame form a spiral that results in shoulder-high piles of clothes filling every room, narrow pathways wending to crucial spots in the house, (TV, toilet and bed) slimy refrigerators overflowing with moldy, rotten food, human waste-smeared bathrooms, rampant vermin and dozens of cat corpses lying unknown in your garage.
Of course mental illness exists on a rainbow scale. As an artist, I'm constantly saving then eventually recycling "interesting scraps of paper" that I "might use in a collage some day." A variety of factors - Reagan-Era feelings of instant-entitlement, ever expanding consumer choices, post-Depression echoes of want, even the basic human condition - seem to have combined to make extreme hoarding a modern problem, and one that puts an empirical spin on insanity. You can literally see their craziness manifested in the chaos and overload around them, and eventually understand how sheer volumes of junk can make rational thought impossible. For that, Hoarders is wildly successful.
Brief updates at the end of each show attest to the reliability of techniques employed by a rotating group of specialists, who help two cases per episode. Though additional post-taping help is offered to the hoarders it appears that this is a really tough disorder to cure. It's a fact that won't diffuse any addictive enjoyment you'll get from watching, but it does heighten the grim, disturbing and questionable nature of the show. Obviously it's foolish to expect that a ton of good results will come from a reality rubbernecking show such as Hoarders, but despite your opinion of the venture, you absolutely won't be able to look away from these fascinating human stories.
Here's to finding the end of 1.66:1 non-anamorphic widescreen cable TV DVDs, of the sort the two-disc Hoarders is. The picture is acceptable for TV, with natural if drab colors and detail levels that reveal just enough of things like desiccated cat corpses. Compression artifacts aren't a problem, and the picture is relatively sharp. Overall, it's a just-OK presentation.
Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo Audio is perfectly acceptable for TV subject matter of this nature. Dialog is clear and audible above somewhat morose soundtrack music.
The sole extra available on these two discs is a 21-minute collection of additional footage from each episode. Each bit is of the same quality as everything else in the series, it's just a tiny bit more queasy goodness.
The advisability of curing disorders on a brief reality show - most hoarders get just two days to clear out their houses - is debatable. What's not open to question is the creepy, fantastic addictiveness of Hoarders. Yes, it feels bad voyeuristically peeking in on people weeping because they can't let go of a soiled T-shirt from 1987, but you'll be unable to look away. And you'll keep coming back for more. Recommended.