Site created 12/15/97.
review added: 2/16/01
The Awful Truth: The
Complete First Season
1999 (2000) - Docudrama (New Video
review by Brian Ford Sullivan of
The Digital Bits
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
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:
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.
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