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Site created 12/15/97.

review added: 2/16/01

The Awful Truth: The Complete First Season
1999 (2000) - Docudrama (New Video Group)

review by Brian Ford Sullivan of The Digital Bits

The Awful Truth: The Complete First Season Program Rating: A

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B+/C+/D-

Specs and Features

300 mins (12 episodes at 25 mins each), NR, full frame (1.33:1), 2 single-sided, dual-layered discs (each disc contains 6 episodes), Amaray keep case packaging with slipcase, previously unaired episode outtakes, Michael Moore biography, Moore Awful Truths trivia, previews for other Docudrama releases (Regret to Inform, Paul Taylor: Dancemaker and Don't Look Back), weblinks, program-themed menu screens, scene access (2-3 chapters per episode), languages: English (DD 2.0)

During the presidential campaign for Ralph Nader, filmmaker Michael Moore (Roger & Me, The Big One) would routinely make appearances and give speeches in support of the Green Party candidate. He would speak quite eloquently on how Nader is a man who has literally saved thousands of lives during his career as a consumer advocate. From the auto industry to the environment, Nader has single-handedly helped each and every one of us in some way. That's an astonishing fact to grasp, as it seems in today's apathetic society, the odds of a single person making changes in the world seem like science fiction.

It occurred to me though during these speeches that Moore himself has also been responsible for helping thousands of people during his life. Unhappy with his hometown Flint, Michigan's downtrodden economy, Moore set out to make a documentary that tried to figure out why General Motors closed the local auto plant there (an action which resulted in thousands of residents losing their jobs). The result was Roger & Me, a scathing insight into American corporate ideals that will probably go down as one of the greatest documentaries of the 20th century. Fast forward now to the 21st century - Moore has already helmed another critically acclaimed documentary, The Big One, as well 20-some odd episodes of the documentary series TV Nation. Like Roger & Me, both take a look at the various crimes and idiocies committed by large corporations in the name of profit.

His most recent endeavor, however, is The Awful Truth, essentially a revived version of TV Nation made for cable's Bravo network and Britain's Channel 4. And just like his previous efforts, it's full of the same insightful, humorous and eye-opening moments - moments that will stay with you for quite some time. The Awful Truth: The Complete First Season features all 12 episodes from the show's inaugural season (which originally aired in 1999 - a second season of 12 episodes was recently shown as well). Each episode consists of two to three segments of Moore causing some sort of trouble, intercut with introductions in front of the The People's Democratic Republic of Television, a.k.a. the PDRTV (Moore's live audience at the Illinois Institute of Technology). Here's a look at the episodes themselves:

Disc One

Episode One - The series starts off with a hilarious sequence involving Moore creating a good old-fashioned witch hunt in Washington, D.C. in reaction to the impeachment hearings. He hires a group of people to dress up as Puritans and to run around shouting "Sinner! Sinner!" all around the Capital building. It's surprising how much access Moore gets, as he calls out various politicians on their own sexual indiscretions. The second, and decidedly more serious, segment involves Moore helping a man whose insurance carrier (Humana) won't pay for his pancreas transplant... meaning he could die at any moment. So, in pure Michael Moore fashion, the pair storms Humana's corporate headquarters demanding an explanation. When they get the heave-ho, they stage a "practice" funeral in front of the building and invite all the employees to watch.

Episode Two - Week two of the show features a very Jay Leno-esque segment, where Moore quizzes average rich and poor people about daily conveniences. It's played up for humor - there's nothing more amusing than watching an old woman in a mink coat and jewels be completely dumbfounded by something like changing the bag on a vacuum cleaner. The second segment involves Moore's attempts to thwart a right-wing minister, who sets up protests against gay rights. His answer: The Sodomobile - a giant pink bus full of gay men and women having sex. I can honestly say I've never laughed this hard in my life. The reaction of the minister to the sight of the bus pulling up will easily keep me laughing for months.

Episode Three - In this episode, Moore brings back a mainstay from TV Nation - Crackers the Corporate Crime Fighting Chicken (essentially just a man in a giant chicken suit). His case: the working conditions of Disney employees. Crackers travels to Orlando, where he sets out to meet Mickey Mouse. Of course, security doesn't let him stay long, but watching the kids mistake him for just another cartoon character is absolutely priceless. The second segment here has Moore rounding up a group of men and women with tracheotomies and voice boxes to sing Christmas carols for the corporate headquarters of a tobacco company.

Episode Four - Moore asks his audience if they've always wanted their own bill collector. Enter Sal the Bill Collector, an overbearing dock worker from New Jersey who sets out to help a former UPS employee regain his job (UPS had promised to create 10,000 new jobs as part of its union contract). Segment number two features Moore visiting the Indian and Pakistani ambassadors in an attempt to promote the "Duck and Cover" campaign the U.S. used in the 1950s and 60s to teach kids about nuclear weapons safety (India and Pakistan had just become nuclear powers).

Episode Five - Both segments of this episode feature Moore's battle with Ira Rennert, a man whose companies are responsible for the most pollution in the United States. Moore attempts to give him the "Awful Truth Man of the Year" award, only to be met by heavy resistance. Rennert even goes so far as to have a restraining order placed on Moore, preventing him from coming within 150 feet of Rennert's person and offices. This wouldn't be so bad... if Rennert's office wasn't in the middle of Rockefeller Center, home to NBC. There's a hilarious sequence where Moore's appearance on The Conan O'Brien Show involved Conan shouting to Moore outside his office window so that Moore wouldn't break the 150 foot rule by entering the studio.

Episode Six - Moore shows a hospital how to implement the "work for care" system that it's considering adopting to help uninsured patients. He sets up a hospice across the street from the hospital with professional doctors and nurses. Patients "barter" for their care, exchanging tasks like sewing and mopping for checkups. The show features two other segments: one involving Moore setting up a webcam outside Lucianne Goldberg's apartment (she's the woman who told Linda Tripp to record her conversations with Monica Lewinsky) and another where Moore tries to round up televisions for Afghanistan... which had recently outlawed television.

Disc Two

Episode Seven - In this episode, Moore wonders why Clinton has appointed William Cohen as his Secretary of Defense (he's not the most threatening figure and has even published a book of poetry). So in order to test Cohen, Moore seeks him and asks him if he's man enough for an arm wrestling match. The second segment has Moore revisiting Manpower, Inc., one of the fixtures in The Big One. You see, since that film was released, Manpower has issued a "Michael Moore Memo" on how to act if Moore ever comes into company offices. Moore tests employees to see if they're aware of the memo, by going into five major Manpower corporate centers to see what their response times are.

Episode Eight - This episode falls on the more humorous side, as Moore attempts to shut down a company in Montana that sells "Unabomber" brand one-room shacks. In another segment, Moore tries to get the Joe Camel mascot a job now that he's been let go. Just picture a man in a Joe Camel suit trying to get unemployment and it spirals from there. One last segment features the webcam set up in Episode Six, as Moore calls Lucianne Goldberg and tell her about the cam. Her reaction is quite astonishing.

Episode Nine - In one of the best episodes of the bunch, Moore attempts to give Ted Turner his own country so he won't run for president of the United States. Moore gets a flag, currency, constitution and song created for the mock Turner nation, which he dubs "Turdonia". Another segment has Moore starting his own Teen Sniper School, to teach the Columbine wannabes how to aim properly - not for the weak-hearted for sure. The big draw, however, features Moore trying to help Holocaust survivors get back their money, which was stolen from them by the Nazis during WWII (with the help of Swiss banks). He hires an actor to dress up as Adolf Hitler and try and withdraw the money.

Episode Ten - Week ten features the return of Crackers the Corporate Crime Fighting Chicken, as he battles with a German egg producer that's polluting in Indiana. The second big feature in this episode has Moore trying to buy Bill Gates a housewarming gift for his new Seattle home. Just watch the security guards' reaction to what Moore tries to give Mr. Gates.

Episode Eleven - The first season's penultimate episode has Moore questioning our own efforts to inspect Iraqi weapons bases. To prove his point, he gets two Iraqi immigrants to go to a U.S. military base and ask to inspect the U.S. weapons arsenal. A second more disturbing sequence is an amusing short film about the Make a Wish Foundation (which had recently denied a dying boy his chance to kill a bear). The request played out here is just as surprising: a cross burning. Lastly, since Bill and Hillary Clinton's marriage is on the rocks, Moore sets out to find Hilary a new husband by placing ads in the Village Voice and asking people on the streets. Again, the results are quite hilarious.

Episode Twelve - The season finale has Moore taking on one of his bread and butter topics - NAFTA. He sets out to get a recently laid-off American worker a job in the Mexican plant that replaced him. Another amusing sequence has Moore throwing a mock wedding between Diamler Benz and Chrysler. Watch for the guards (who seem to think he's carrying a bomb). Finally, there's a short film involving a group of strikebreakers... who ironically form their own union.

In these episode descriptions I doubt I've done The Awful Truth justice. There's simply an amazing, eye-opening quality to all of them. Moore's uncanny ability to push the envelope and gain unprecedented access in all his endeavors simply makes him an American treasure. We should all appreciate his efforts. While certainly many of Moore's "stunts" are done for humor, they're never cheap and always has a satiric undertone.

Let's talk disc quality. The folks at Docudrama have done a nice job putting together this set. The video and audio here is actually significantly better than broadcast quality. Certainly, the quality goes down occasionally based on the use of older video material, but it's not detrimental to the program. The sound, while technically listed as Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo, is mostly bland - almost on the mono side - because of the documentary aspect of the series. Most of the dialogue is voiceover or captured from video. That's not to say that the audio is bad - it's just about what you'd expect for a program of this type.

As far as extras go, the package is quite slim. On the tail end of each episode, you get a brief "outtake" that wasn't shown during the series' original cable broadcast. Make sure to sit through the closing credits to catch them, as there's no specific chapter jump to reach them instantly. The discs also contain Moore Awful Truths, a collection of new "infographics" (a.k.a. trivia) along the lines of the ones the series airs between commercial breaks on television. There's also a nifty bio (sorry... just text) of Michael Moore, as well as previews for other Docudrama produced releases.

What can I say that hasn't already been said? The Awful Truth: The Complete First Season is quite a special collection. I have no doubt that you'll find something in these 12 episodes that will keep you thinking long after these discs have stopped spinning. So while DVD fans await the release of Roger & Me and The Big One, this collection will definitely do in the meantime. Michael Moore is a man who that's helped to change the world in his own way. And after viewing this series, you might just find yourself believing that one person really can make a difference.

Brian Ford Sullivan
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