by Maud Newton and D.E. Rasso
Is “Sarah Palin’s Alaska” a protracted 2012 campaign ad? An End-Times relocation brochure for fundamentalists? Or just the most boring hour of television since Lawrence Welk? Probably all three. Most of my friends are baffled by the media’s obsession with her. “I’m watching her give a speech on CNN, and she might very well be the most aggressively stupid person I have ever seen on the national stage,” one said recently. “And I’m old enough to remember Dan Quayle.” But I can’t help it, I’m transfixed. And because I don’t have cable (except for basic-basic and HBO, a combination apparently only available to Cablevision subscribers in the Brooklyn hinterlands), and Dana does, I invited myself over to her house for an evening of Palin and “Walking Dead” (or is that redundant?). Please note that these scenes may or may not be discussed in the order that they appeared. (Special thanks go out to three bottles of wine.)
Maud: I forgot about her voice.
Dana: Really? That’s the first thing I remember.
The theme song begins, an inoffensive hard rock ballad sung by a dude with an inoffensively raspy voice.
Dana: Who is this, Nickelback?
Maud: Creed maybe.
Dana: Aha, it’s a Christian band called Third Day. Remember, on the third day, God created Earth and Sea and fruit-bearing trees. No grizzlies though.
Maud: Also, on the third day, Jesus rose from the grave!
Dana: Aha, you’re right indeed.
Maud: Look, I know I’m a conspiracy whack-job when it comes to Palin and her allure for fundamentalist loons (of the kind I grew up with), but this song (“Follow Me There”) is all, “You need a place where you can find some shelter” (subtext: when the apocalypse comes).
Dana: I’m feeling it!
Maud: Alaska: it’s a place where “the lost can find salvation,” Dana, and “the lonely finds [sic] a friend”!
Dana: I finds a friend in Jesus. This is the first of what I expect will be one of the night’s many dog-whistle moments. Wait, are they really shooting off Roman candles on a speed boat? Is that what people do for fun in Alaska? (When they’re not murdering prostitutes and huffing glue?)
Maud: I reckon so. On her Facebook page, she says the purpose of the whole show is to let “the rest of America … see and experience our country’s young, independent, resource-rich Last Frontier.” Also: “the grandeur of God’s creation, the satisfaction of a good day’s hard work, the rugged pioneering spirit that carves a life out of the wilderness and makes a living on the waters, the wisdom and traditions of our Alaska Natives, and the wealth of our natural resources which allows us to support ourselves and contribute to America’s security.”
First scene: Keeps ya on yer heels.
The Palins are obsessed with their new neighbor who’s moved in because he’s “writing a hit piece” — errr, unauthorized biography. In retaliation, they have erected a 14-foot fence between his property and theirs.
Dana: That’s a campaign promise right there. Palin: Building a 14-foot fence around AMERICA.
Maud: Ha! Yeah, it’s pretty rich that they’re filming the guy on his porch and complaining that he’s invading their privacy. Wait, why is she wearing a football jersey that says “Palin 82” on it?
(In an odd synchronicity, 82% of Republicans have a favorable opinion of her. We can only hope she’s wearing a “Palin 22” jersey next week.)
They’re making muffins or cupcakes or something in the Palin kitchen. Piper Palin demonstrates all the utensils she can fit into her mouth. Sarah, noticing that the camera is rolling, halfheartedly rebukes her daughter for putting the salivated-on stirrer back in the batter, then checks her Blackberry.
Dana: Did they ever actually bake anything? Why does it feel like the entire kitchen is just a prop wall, like a McMansion in a Potemkin village?
Maud: Maybe FOX built the kitchen when they built her home TV studio?
Dana: Any time Palin says anything that sounds remotely factual about geography it’s obvious she’s been fed these lines. I challenge her to name the ten biggest cities in Alaska.
So she drags her daughter and her niece to go fishing by some bears. It’s clear that no one but the bush plane pilot has ever done this before, and they spend most of their time agonizing that no one’s caught any fish despite the fact that the boat is floating atop a giant school of salmon. Then bears show up and do a tepid demonstration of bear-like behavior.
Dana: I wouldn’t be surprised if they had just been let out of a cage moments before.
Sadly, Palin’s hope that a Mama Grizzly shows up is not realized.
Dana: I know that I’ve openly wished on many occasions that someone should meet their untimely death via a bear mauling, but at this point in the show (approx 15 minutes in) I’m prostrate on the floor, begging for this to happen.
Maud: Yeah, it’s hard not to wish the thing would morph into a National Geographic special with a “tragic” ending. Also, this is every bit as boring as Nancy Franklin said.
“If we had that in Wasilla, I would be outside 24/7 eating popcorn on a chair,” says Piper of a bear brawl scene that was probably filmed separately and inserted later.
Dana: What kid would say that? She was fed that line.
Maud: Clearly, these kids really love The Great Outdoors.
Maud: Seriously, what is the point of this show? Are we supposed to think that the Palin clan is always out in a float plane fishing with bears? Or are they tourists, and we’re along for the ride? Not that it isn’t thrilling to watch Palin continuously checking her email.
Dana: Blackberry must be a sponsor.
Maud: I think my favorite part so far is when she turns to the camera and just casually says, “Alaska leads the nation in float plane fatalities!” Or whatever it was.
Dana: …a message from the Alaskan Tourism Board.
Next scene: I Can See Russia From My Couch.
In the Palin household you’re required to wear short shorts and Bump-Its. Sarah sits in front of the computer, apparently searching for something on Bing (so that’s who uses it!) and averting another teen pregnancy in her household by announcing that the toddler gates for Trig are also meant to keep boys out of the upstairs.
Dana: That’s right: In Alaska, contraception = toddler gates
Maud: Yeah, who needs sex ed when you have toddler gates?
Maud: And who’s that changing the baby’s diaper?
Maud: And where is Bristol?
Dana: I just realized the chief appeal of this show: legs & scenery.
Called upon to stoke the ire of her Tea Party minions, Sarah rushes to her home TV studio, puts on some sort of red suit jacket and booties, and hits her talking points. Afterward, she confirms with Todd that letting Bush’s tax cuts expire will “affect how many guys you would hire.” They exchange Amens.
Dana: This is so boring.
Maud: To us, maybe, but a million fundamentalists just achieved simultaneous orgasm.
Next scene: Get in the van.
They all hop into something Sarah refers to as an RV but actually resembles Kenny Rogers’ tour bus. They go to a climbing school (and again, has Sarah ever actually done anything physical outdoors before?) and tease us with the possibility of Sarah getting swallowed up by a crevasse while she’s snow-shoeing it across the tundra. At some point, it’s implied that they’re going to climb Mt McKinley, but they have to turn back because of the weather.
Maud: One of the overarching themes in this show is the absence of any affection whatsoever between Sarah and Todd. They really don’t like each other at all! Not that you can blame them.
Dana: It’s painful to see the contrast of Sarah’s midwestern chit-chat vs. Todd’s silent, dead-eyed brooding. He’s a perfect example of Arendt’s concept of the banality of evil. They clearly hate each other. And Is it just me or does he have meth face?
Maud: OMG, now that you mention it, I’m pretty sure I saw his twin brother in that Faces of Meth lineup that was going around.
Next scene: Your guys’ safety is the key-most factor.
They go to a glacier. She straddles a crevasse, whinging all the way. We’re hoping she gets sucked down into it. The film crew forces us to watch ten minutes of footage of Sarah scaling a 15-foot rock face.
Dana: I remember doing Outward Bound in 8th grade and it was harder than that. Goddammit, is she wearing rented shoes?
Maud: This is even less exciting than all the footage of her checking email. Also, what’s with the whingeing? Christ. I mean, I hate heights, too, but I didn’t pitch an Alaskan wilderness-adventure show to every major network. Remember the part earlier where she was totally trying to emasculate her father because he hadn’t done the two-week climb up Mt. McKinley?
Dana: I genuinely believe that the creators of this show have vastly overestimated the American public’s interest in rock faces and glaciers. Absent the promise of death, of course.
Maud: I want to believe that even the short-shorts won’t boost ratings, but I dunno.
Dana: I’m also beginning to suspect that the Democrats have concocted this show as a secret means of killing Sarah Palin.
Maud: It figures they’d be about as successful at that as they are at passing legislation when they control both houses of Congress.
Dana: I know it’s cliche to say “I want that hour of my life back” but in this case I feel so passionate about it that I’m willing to take it all the way to the Supreme Court.
Maud: I’m sorry I made you watch it. You might want to skip the appeal to the Roberts Court, though.
Dana: Hey, it’s time to watch the other, better zombie show, where the protagonists are way better hunters than these assholes.
CONCLUSION: Truly a waste of an hour. Dana can’t imagine who would go back to watch a second episode unless Palin climbs up a rock face to discover the 20th Duggar baby. Maud will spend the day hitting reload on Palin’s Facebook page where, as of this moment, her most recent post about the show has 13,828 “likes” and 1,606 fawning comments like this one: “Sarah, after watching Alaska last night, i can’t believe how accomplished you are and how anyone could ever call you dumb!! their just jealous!”
D.E. Rasso is a writer and blogger who has spoken inexpertly on the topics of music criticism, the future of publishing, Internet impostors, and weird things from dollar stores. Her essay, “The Rules of Repulsion,” recently appeared in the critically acclaimed anthology, Love Is a Four-Letter Word.
Maud Newton has been writing about writing and reading at her blog since 2002.