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THE AWFUL TRUTH
The Complete First Season

Review by Michael Jacobson

Star:  Michael Moore
Director:  Michael Moore
Audio:  Dolby Digital Stereo
Video:  Full Frame 1.33:1
Studio:  Docurama
Features:  Michael Moore Bio, “Moore Awful Truths”
Length:  300 Minutes
Release Date:  October 31, 2000

“The American Public is a lot smarter than it’s given credit for.” – Michael Moore

Film **

What a difference a season makes!  I’m actually glad that I got to see the second season of Michael Moore’s The Awful Truth before seeing Season One.  The latter to me was as healthy and as smart a collection of satire as I had seen in many a year.  The former?  A bit of a different story.

Michael Moore is a bit too full of himself in his first season.  Even the shows’ introduction proclaims over and over again, “But there was ONE MAN…”  Instead of going to the streets of New York as he would do in his follow up season, he stages the whole show in an auditorium, with himself as sole host.  There are two basic problems with this set up:  number one, he’s not funny enough to serve as a stand-up comedian, try as he might.  And number two, there’s really nothing to offset his constant, irritating liberal breast-beating.  

Moore’s collection of pieces range from the very smart and funny, if occasionally in questionable taste, to the downright repulsive.  For an example of Moore at his best, watch the “Funeral at an HMO” bit, where a man who has paid an HMO for seven years on a policy meant to cover everything related to his diabetes is denied a pancreas transplant that would save his life.  Moore actually stages a full mock funeral for the poor fellow right out in front of the insurance company’s headquarters, complete with mourners and hearse.

That’s good stuff, and it makes a helluva good point, but unfortunately, some of The Awful Truth focuses more on “awful” and less on “truth”.  Does anybody really want to see a sketch about a fake school that teaches little kids to shoot better (in which Moore complains, for example, that the Columbine kids were a disgrace for having so many targets and killing so relatively few)?  If Moore thinks a bit like that is either funny or intelligent, he’s nauseatingly short-sited.

Moore as a walking liberal lexicon wears a bit thin as the series progresses, too.  He carefully chooses what facts to reveal and what facts to brush aside when attacking Walt Disney World for its employment practices (he actually talks to workers who play the characters at the theme park, who complain about how low their wages are…and I was thinking, how much could you want for putting on a costume and waving for a half hour at a time?).  He repeatedly echoes the far and wide (and false) sentiment that former President Clinton was impeached because of his sexual affairs, while never pointing out the real reason was because he lied under oath in a court of law.

Other times, Moore tries to do what he does best, which is confronting major corporations (see Roger and Me), but even then, he displays a complete lack of brainpower in how he goes about it.  He sends costumed characters like Crackers the Corporate Crime Fighting Chicken, or even Joe Camel, into companies’ headquarters and wonders why they get thrown out so quickly.  What did he hope to accomplish?  Nothing would be my guess, because that’s exactly what he DOES accomplish.  If someone masked and costumed came into YOUR place of business, wouldn’t you call security or the police, too?

Perhaps most absurd is his gay rights piece, where he travels a troupe of homosexual men in a big pink RV labeled…get this…the Sodomobile, where he takes them from state to state, parks the vehicle, and allows his merry men to engage in open sexual practices in public.  I’m very much against discrimination of any kind myself, but you HAVE to ask Michael Moore one question…did this little stunt of his strengthen his cause, or weaken it?

Now that I’ve said my piece against Moore’s more questionable antics, I have to take a moment and give him some credit for the pieces that ARE both funny and smart.  Remember Lucianne Goldberg?  She was the woman who persuaded Linda Tripp to record the infamous Monica Lewinsky phone calls that set the whole Clinton investigation in motion.  Moore argues that SHE, therefore, was most responsible for the months and months of lurid detail we had to live through as a country, and gets his revenge by installing a web cam outside of her New York apartment window, along with a site that could be accessed 24 hours a day by anybody…it’s a great lesson in the 4th Amendment (which Lucy later admits she doesn’t know)!

Another good bit is when Moore arrives at both the Indian and Pakistani Embassies…considering both nations are fairly young nuclear powers, he figured it was about time for them and their citizens to learn the ropes…roll those “duck and cover” films!

The Awful Truth Season One is a decidedly mixed bag…Moore seemed to get a little bit better and less self-promoting in his second year.  I started with the follow-up season myself, and would therefore recommend that double disc set as a better starting point than the premiere season.

Video **

The program quality wasn’t the only improvement come Season Two…the video quality stepped up as well.  Here, with a simple stage setting, there is less attention paid to lighting, color, and detail.  There is a bit of grain and haziness noticeable from time to time, especially against black backgrounds.  Colors are a bit flatter and images softer throughout.  Not that this kind of program requires a stellar video presentation, but as always, I have to call ‘em like I see ‘em.

Audio **1/2

The programming style doesn’t make much demands on the stereo audio…dialogue is well rendered throughout, as are the frequent musical cues.  Most of the dynamic range comes from the loud introductions.  All in all, a workable audio track.

Features *

The disc contains a bio for Michael Moore, plus some additional “Awful Truth” poll facts (though some of them are merely replicated from the programs).

Summary:

Sometimes it takes a while to get comfortable with an idea.  The Awful Truth would blossom into a smart, satirical show in its second year, but Season One proved that Michael Moore wasn’t quite where he wanted to be just yet.  There are some comic gems along the way, to be sure, but for the most part, his show’s infantile 12 episodes could have used a little more truth and a little less awful.