Silly, foolish, ridiculous, naive me was hoping that the controversy surrounding Kid Nation would prove to be more than just hype. "It's Lord Of The Flies!" cried concerned citizens when told of the premise, which plunks 40 kids (aged 8-15) into an abandoned frontier town in New Mexico to fend for themselves. But there's no conch shell here, no bloodshed to be had. Sure, a bunch of them are apparently going to accidentally drink a little bleach later in the season, but (yawn!) they're mostly just going to learn to get along. All that the debut episode proved is that kids are actually more civil than adults, and probably react better when their feelings are hurt. And the first rule of reality TV is, of course, "Getting along makes for boring viewing."
So the kids make their way to Bonanza City, excited for a roughing-it adventure that turns out to be... not that rough. (Four of the kids, interviewed by the L.A. Times after production wrapped, said that the toughest part of the show was getting used to the cameras being around.) A town council, chosen by the producers and made up of children who will surely annoy the shit out of everyone once they get to high school, is ostensibly in charge, though no one seems to care. Mike, age 11, tries in vain to lead at first but gets shoved aside (ever-so-slightly) by Greg, 15, a skater boi with braces who's surely being positioned as Kid Nation's Puck.
Then, of course, the usual reality-TV stuff happens, which is to say that the opposite of reality is introduced. Teams are organized, jobs are handed out, ridiculous challenges that have nothing to do with survival are played. Afterwards, the town is offered a reward as a group: They can have seven extra outhouses (they started with just one) or a TV (just like the TVs they had in 1885, apparently). The kids surprisingly choose the extra toilets, and 11-year-old supernerd Jared says he's happy that he won't have to wait in line because "That would, like, hurt your colon a lot." Take a look at Jared and you'll surely see his uptight dad.
But in the end, there's not enough potential for backstabbing or violence (emotional or otherwise) on Kid Nation. It's a reality show aimed at children, designed ultimately to promote positive values like sharing, caring, and other stuff that could prove ultimately worthless when these kids--many have an air of wealthy entitlement already--get a little older. It's cute when they first feel a rush of being accepted by the group, but also a little unsettling--but never unsettling enough. Maybe if there were only enough food for 30 of them... That'd be a reality scenario worth paying attention to. As it stands, though, Kid Nation will surely turn out to be a feel-good snoozefest, ideal for parents uneasy with most reality TV, but boring for those used to cutthroat adult fare, bug eating, and sex.
-- The host, Jonathan Karsh, seems really, really uncomfortable around children.
-- Wow, kids cry a lot.
-- The kids are divided into upper class, merchants, and laborers. There's a solid lesson.
-- Oh, important: Participants can quit. Nobody gets kicked off or eliminated. One kid, every five days, is given a two-pound gold star worth $20,000. For college, or maybe teen plastic surgery.