Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (May 22, 2008)
On a recent trip, I channel-surfed at a hotel and came across the A&E series Intervention. The show takes folks with various addictions and follows them as they attempt to kick their habits. The episode I watched looked at a morbidly obese teen and a drug-addled college kid. TV often digs into people with serious problems, as folks like Dr. Phil and many others love to mine that territory, but something about the program made it more appealing, perhaps because it demonstrated a perverse sense of humor. For instance, someone decided to force the dieting teen to decorate massive numbers of cupcakes.
Since I donít have cable, I canít watch Intervention on a regular basis, so I decided to take a look at Intervention: Season One Ė Then and Now DVD. Alas, neither character from the episode I already watched appears here. ďThen and NowĒ offers four programs with a total of six participants.
Each one follows a similar framework. We learn about the problems suffered by those involved and then see actions done to remedy the concerns. This means they stage an ďinterventionĒ to attempt to help the messed-up individual improve.
Alyson (43:12): A 27-year-old former White House intern, Alyson gets into morphine, crack and heroin. She dropped out of college one semester short of graduation and has blown plenty of opportunities due to her addiction. Her oxygen-assisted father suffers from ill health due to aneurysms, and Alysonís status creates even more stress for him.
Honestly, it becomes tough to feel sorry for Alyson because she seems like such a whiner. She had all sorts of privileges that she blew becauseÖ I donít know. The show never gives us a hint as to why Alyson became an addict. We hear about her boyfriend Ritchie, an almost absurdly over-the-top example of a terrible choice for a mate; he looks and acts just like heís from the Every Parentís Worst Nightmare catalog. The show alludes to his part in Alysonís drug use but never relates how she met him, how they got involved, and why she gave up on all the positive aspects of her life.
The fact that she does all this during her dadís potentially terminal illness does nothing to endear Alyson to us. Again, if we had some clue how she got addicted in the first place, she might seem more sympathetic. We donít, so she just seems like a selfish brat. Her path to sobriety appears strangely easy, too. One minute she delights in her drug use, and the next she wholly buys into rehab. I think itís great that she does that, but it does seem perplexing since Alyson never exhibits any qualms about her addictions; she just sees herself as a victim, though a victim of what remains unknown. Itís compelling viewing, even if Alyson annoys us and these questions remain.
Gabe and Vanessa (44:26): Former child prodigy Gabeís gambling addiction literally drives his parents out of their home; they have to sell the house to pay for his debts. Vanessa once bordered on fame as a cast member on ER but her career has tanked. She shops to excess to satisfy various holes in her life.
Woof Ė these two make Alyson look like the most normal person on the planet. Gabe is a suicidal whiner who doesnít accept how his behavior impacts on others, while Vanessa suffers from multiple mental disorders. Her shopping addiction seems to be the least of her problems.
Thatís a significant flaw in her story, as it quickly becomes obvious that her financial issues are a minor concern compared to her other obstacles. Heck, sheís not even gone into debt due to her shopping; she used up a lot of the money she saved when her career went well, but sheís not in financial trouble. The shopping is obviously a symptom. I understand why the series focused on that one area, as itís her only ďaddictionĒ, but itís just the tip of the iceberg; poor Vanessa has massive, massive issues thatíre much more serious than shopping.
At least Intervention paints Vanessa as sympathetic. Itís obvious that her substantial mental health problems have hindered her life and her career. (I looked at IMDB: Vanessa hasnít acted since 2001.) I genuinely felt bad for Vanessa as I watched; she suffers from so many concerns that she can barely keep herself afloat. (She also could use a cheeseburger; the poor girl is downright skeletal.)
On the other hand, seeing Gabe makes me want to retract the negative remarks I related about Alyson. Yeah, sheís a spoiled whiner, but Gabe takes a sense of entitlement to a whole different level. He actually believes that parents are completely responsible for their kids forever - financially and every other possible way. Gabe takes absolutely no responsibility for his flaws; he blames others and gets angry when everyone else wonít do what he wants.
Maybe I sound like a bad person for saying this, but Gabe is one of those people whoís so unlikable that you want to see him fail. Heís a real piece of work without a single characteristic to make him sympathetic. He looks and acts like a three-year-old. Granted, his parents do deserve a lot of the blame; as was the case with Alyson, they clearly enabled a lot of his excesses. Nonetheless, heís a very unpleasant guy.
Even when he seems to get his act together after his self-aborted intervention, it feels like a con. We know that Gabeís super-smart, and heís also clearly a sociopath. He tries to use whatever tactic he can find to manipulate the folks who care about him. Now heís going for ďhumbleĒ, but I donít buy it. Oh, and he really needs a hairstyle intervention, as those silly blond highlights ainít working for him.
Sara (44:16): 24-year-old Sara has a three-year-old kid and a meth addiction. Her ex-husband now has custody of their daughter while she resorts to crime to support her habit. Attempts by her family to set her straight just make her feel more eager to get stoned.
Thatís Saraís response to everything: get high. When her family nags her, she gets high. When she goes to court, she gets high. When she fails a drug test, she gets high again.
Geez Ė Saraís only 24? Meth must really age its users, as she looks at least 10 to 15 years older. Saraís episode doesnít seem as involving as the two prior shows. Perhaps thatís because Sara doesnít show the obvious mental illnesses of Vanessa, and sheís not a relentless selfish whiner like Gabe and Alyson. Actually, she does show a lot of the same tendencies as those two, and if her episode came first, Iíd probably muster more negativity toward her, but she comes across as less irritating as those two.
Once again, my main complaint about the show stems from the seriesí inability to explain the roots of the addiction. We get some hints of disappointments and failed promise, but thereís not much detail involved there. She married young and it didnít work out, but thatís not a great explanation for meth addiction. Itís not clear if she started to use after her marriage failed or if her drug addiction led to her divorce, which is another drawback of the episode. The show manages to keep us interested but itís not quite as involving as its predecessors.
Travis and Matt (44:26): 19-year-old Matt comes from a close-knit family and lives at home, but he does whatever necessary to support his cocaine and crack habits. That includes stealing from his family; heís taken more than $15,000 worth of merchandise from them over the years. His parents threaten to boot him from the house if he doesnít go into treatment within a month. Matt displays remorse but continues to ďchase that highĒ.
As for 25-year-old Travis, he attained success as the leader of a rock band called Days of the New. He maintains a crystal meth addiction thatís put the kibosh on his career along with many relationships. Health problems seem imminent; after one meth run, he suffered permanent heart damage.
Wow Ė for once an episode of Intervention actually attempts to explain an addiction! Matt claims that he started to do coke due to all the pressures to succeed at school. Thatís an interesting rationale, and a believable one, as kids these days are forced to engage in eight zillion extracurricular activities to keep up with their peers.
We also hear about all the neglect from Travisís mom, so his addiction undergoes some explanation as well. His success as a teenage rocker clearly did a number on his psyche, too. Intervention really should try to do that more often; itís more satisfying when we have some understanding of what brought the addicts where they are.
Travis and Matt provide probably the most sympathetic of the DVDís six tales. While Travis doesnít do much to endear himself to us, his tale creates great sadness in the viewer. The kid got dealt a bad hand by his crappy parents but managed to become a legit rock star as a teen. He couldnít handle it, though, so he blew all his fame, fortune and potential on drugs. I know that Alyson offers another story of someone who didnít live up to what they couldíve been, but she lost everything despite all sorts of advantages, whereas Travis came from nothing to achieve success. It hurts more to see someone overcome the odds and collapse. Cripes, Travisí mom is such a dud that she says she canít attend his intervention due to problems with her furnace!
Matt becomes one participant for whom we cheer because he shows self-awareness and a desire to improve. Whereas most of the others donít care that theyíre hurting their loved ones, Matt knows heís doing wrong and he clearly wants to work on that. Any time I see a guy who completely sabotages his chances with the girl he likes, I gotta feel for him.
The presence of two sympathetic subjects doesnít make this episode more interesting than the others, as the annoying characters can be the most compelling. However, it adds more of an emotional component to the show since we actually care what happens to the guys. Thatís probably the best path for Intervention, as the addicts you love to hate take it a little too close to Jerry Springer territory at times. Those stories are entertaining, but you feel a bit dirty after you watch them.