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THE AWFUL TRUTH
The Complete Second Season

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Michael Moore
Director:  Michael Moore
Audio:  Dolby Stereo
Video:  Full Frame 1.33:1
Studio:  Docurama
Features:  Commentaries for Select Episodes, Moore Bio, Extra Lenny “The Bookie” Odds
Length:  300 Minutes
Release Date:  January 29, 2002

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

Film ***

Satire is alive and well in this country, thank you very much…just ask Michael Moore.

If you’re one of many who thought it a lost art form, replaced instead by the dumb spoof, the pointless parody, or simple sarcasm, The Awful Truth is a series you might want to check out.  It’s smart, well-conceived, and downright hilarious…most of the time.

Moore first achieved national recognition about a decade earlier with his simply made but well-received documentary Roger and Me, in which he simply had a video camera follow him around as he attempted to have a meeting with the corporate executive at General Motors most responsible for his and many other’s layoffs.  Moore’s simple, direct style, his boldness, and his sense of humor brought him attention and accolades.

The Awful Truth is his second cable series after TV Nation.  In it, Moore hosts half hour installments, mostly from Times Square in New York, in which he unleashes his wit against all that he deems wrong in his city, the country, and the world.  The second season double DVD set consists of the complete 12 episodes from 2000, and there was plenty of food for fodder for him, starting with the inevitable election (the actual event was just outside the range of coverage for this set…too bad, because one can only imagine the field day he must have had with my beloved state of Florida’s ballot problems).

From episode one, in which he travels from campaign office to campaign office with a portable mosh pit and offers his show’s endorsement to whichever candidate jumps in, Moore demonstrates a knack for the offbeat.  One of the candidates actually participates…but I’ll leave it to you to discover which one!  

In subsequent episodes, Moore belittles compassionate conservatism by letting the wealthy Wall Streeters dunk and pie the homeless for charity, has a Ficus tree run for a Congressional seat against an incumbent with no one running against him (and maybe wins?), and more. 

Some of my favorite moments include his proof that people in our country willingly give up their rights too easily…he hires a couple of off duty cops in full uniforms to frisk random passersby, and we don’t see anyone saying no!  He also pits New York against Toronto and London to see…who will stop and help the dead guy lying in the street first?  I’ll give you one hint…it ain’t New York.  He also has a brilliant response to the infamous episode with actor Danny Glover’s failed attempt to catch a taxi in the Big Apple…he gets his own cab, rides it around the city, and refuses to pick up any white passengers!

But the show is called The Awful Truth, and in between the laughs, Moore also exposes some goings-on that you might not have ever believed would happen here.  Can you imagine, for example, a county in California where in a short period of time, some 900 poor citizens were convicted for crimes and sent to prison…with only one of them actually receiving a trial?  This ain’t the National Enquirer folks…this is stuff that happens just under our radar.

When Michael Moore is successful, his show is everything that great political satire should be.  Unfortunately, he falls painfully, even embarrassingly short from time to time.  It gets worse as the episodes progress, as though he were running out of viable ideas towards the conclusion of his second season.  His idea for letting homeless people live in storage warehouses for $30 a month, or in the trunks of parked cars, for example, is not funny, and becomes downright tasteless when you see he’s using actual homeless citizens for his cameras. 

His constant left-wing bunk gets a little old, too, and all of it typical.  He runs a piece on the death penalty, for example, that naturally focuses all of its attention on those receiving capital punishment (even showing their pictures)…not a word, of course, about their murder victims or the victims’ families left behind in grief.  His Dixie Flag Night episode irked me a little bit…being from the south myself, I get tired of all the liberal stereotyping of southerners.  Moore even shows his ignorance or his willingness to alter the facts by blaming the Confederacy, slavery and such on conservatives.  Somehow, he forgets that Abraham Lincoln himself was a Republican…hmm…

Other moments become victimized by bad timing of the video release date.  How many people in the U.S. are going to enjoy his constant bashing of New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, I wonder?  (OK, the Giuliani sex shop sequence was pretty funny).  His anti-military remarks will be deemed highly inappropriate by many, and his stance on pulling the United Nations out of Iraq will be less than appreciated…evidently, Mr. Moore thinks Saddam Hussein developing chemical and biological weapons is none of the world’s business.

So, in watching the second season of The Awful Truth, I started out by pegging it for an enthusiastic four star review.  As it went on, however, I kept docking it a half star here and a half star there.  By the finish, I was looking at a mere 2 ½ star review, but in thinking back to some of the better episodes, decided to settle on a good 3 star mark for overall consideration.

Michael Moore is a smart and talented guy, whose unassuming looks and mannerisms actually make for a potent weapon against corporate hypocrisy, political two-facedness, and more.  His ability to zing his enemies with humor and intelligence makes The Awful Truth a terrific television program most of the time.  A little less agenda and a little more care with taste would be welcomed, and certainly help the overall integrity of the program.

Video ***

These video full frame transfers from Docurama are quite good.  Moore’s show anchors in Times Square at night, which is awash in colors, and makes for a good opening to each episode.  The individual segments go all over the country and world, making for varied lighting schemes and settings, and they all pretty much render with no complaint…no noticeable grain, no distortions, no compression of any kind evident.  A good presentation all around.

Audio ***

Hmm…the box says Dolby Stereo, and I tend to believe what boxes tell me…but I could have sworn in at least one episode, I heard my rear speakers kick in a little bit…could it have been in Dolby Surround instead?  I could be wrong, so you be the judge.  At any rate, for a dialogue oriented show, this is an impressive audio effort that comes across cleanly and clearly, with no noise and even a fair amount of dynamic range from time to time.

Features **

Michael Moore offers a commentary track on four of the twelve episodes…a nice touch, but for the most part, fairly unnecessary.  His shows ARE pretty much his running commentary, anyway!  He offers a few interesting tidbits here and there, but overall, his tracks aren’t nearly as interesting as the shows’ original audio.  There is a biography for Moore included, as well as some extra Lenny “The Bookie” odds not originally aired.  I didn’t see these shows on the Bravo Network when they first came on, so sadly, I can’t really say how many there are for you.

Summary:

The Awful Truth is a funny, smart and important television show, with the only complaint being that it could have been funnier, smarter and more important with some better decisions and ideas in the latter episodes.  Still, Michael Moore proves himself to be a master wielder of political and social satire, and at his best, he’s hysterically sharp and relevant.  This second season double disc offering from Docurama has more good to offer than bad, and it just might be worth your time.