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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Kid Nation: "Let Me Talk!"

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Illustration for article titled Kid Nation: "Let Me Talk!"

The only thing more entertaining than kids arguing is kids crying. So the producers piled on plenty of both, often at the same time, for what may have been the most excruciating episode in a series most independent observers predicted would be frequently excruciating.

We started with the conclusion of last time's town council — recall election! (Bonanza City may have been annexed by California while we weren't looking.) Guylan refuses to stand for reelection, and so his challenger DK wins by default, which makes me wonder whether unhappy council members could have resigned without waiting for Jonathan and his rustic ballots. All three other council members get defeated, most painfully Laurel, one of the original gang of four. She and Mike seemed to have the most invested in their leadership identities — and now Mike does nothing but feel bitter about the way he got defeated by Guylan. Even the sight of Guylan fleeing from the position he once sought brings Mike only resentment.

At least Lauren gets beat by Michael, one of the few pioneers who's never put any posturing in front of his sincerity and intelligence. Anjay, whose hectoring leadership style alienated his district, gets pummeled by Greg, the bad boy of Bonanza, and when Greg's partner in crime Blaine takes his yellow seat, the stage is set for genuine cronyism, Wild West style!

Outside of a Michael Scott motivational speech, I don't believe I've ever seen a more disastrous display of leadership than the "respect exercise" Greg and Blaine cook up to teach the town a lesson they'll never forget. (That would be the lesson on how much they hate Greg.) Sitting through even the edited version of this convocation was like high school detention proctored by a particularly sadistic speech teacher.

Then the dynamic duo eavesdrop on the green district's conversation about how much they hate Greg and Blaine, and decide as a result to sit with DK in the middle of the town yelling sarcastic compliments at passersby. This raises the most troubling issue of KN for me, because I don't believe for a second that Greg and Blaine just happened along to that bunkhouse, any more than I believe that Blaine had that respect exercise done to him in school. It all smells like producer prompting serving the purposes of conflict for the cameras, and when it results in the tears and hatred that came spilling out this week, I don't care that Greg is a jerk all on his own without the show's help. Everybody else suffers through these bad ideas, and that's hard for me to take.

At the showdown this week, the districts are supposed to take notes on effective communication from a bunch of pies. The best part was Jonathan's description of the implements of pie mobility as "giant pieholders," long sticks that had to be maneuvered in pairs. (This is the reality show season of the enormous chopsticks, after all, which makes me wonder when the Amazing Race contestants will have to carry Greek red-figure pottery on huge kabob skewers). Then they had to line up six communications-related inventions in chronological order. My friends, our educational system is in crisis, and Blaine and DK are being left behind. Blaine, who admits he doesn't know "electronical history," puts television first on the list — before the typewriter — on his first try, and then protests that radio had to come before the phonograph because "phonograph has CDs."

Luckily they win the reward this time, and the council — which seems to be just Greg acting alone — has to choose between four adorable ponies and letters from home. The moral theater of the reward choices is getting muddled for me; which is the irresponsible choice, exactly? Surely you can't call a letter from your mom an indulgence, much less a vice.

The council meeting is Respect Exercise Part II, with Greg protesting loudly when his constituents try to give him mostly astute advice, like listening and not calling people names. After some kind of clumsy producer intervention, or maybe just the passage of a lot of time elided by editing, Greg gives a half-hearted apology that wouldn't pass muster in a twelve-step program: "I see where they're right in a way, and I see where they're wrong in a way." Prediction: The reign of terror will continue.

For the first time, the gold star announcement comes out of nowhere, since we were not privy to any deliberations except the council's threat not to give the award, and there's no huddle before Greg gets up and gives it to Laurel. Again I wonder — is he flying solo here? Has Greg gone rogue? But it pays off with the classiest parental phone call evah: her mother screeching "You won twenty thousand DOLLAHS?!"

Even though this episode featured kid-on-kid meanness that this parent found nigh unbearable, I was on the edge of my seat. And with Greg and Blaine promising to run the ghost town on revenge, resentment, and their unresolved feelings about their emotionally unavailable fathers, I'll be here until the last gold star gets handed out.

Next week: Taylor's back to her old tricks, which should make Josh (back on blog duty) very happy.

Grade: B+

Stray observations:

- The last time I subbed for Josh on this assignment, there was a surprise council election. I am becoming the TV Club expert on the reality competition political process, direct democracy subcategory.

- Sophia, after Greg's election: "It's like someone just won a presidential election with no background check." Um, do we do background checks on presidential candidates?

- My least favorite part of the show is the producer's weekly effort to make us believe someone is going home. Tonight: Taylor, Lauren, and Zach all get pushed prematurely out the door because they had the temerity to admit to being a little blue.

- Jonathan, during the showdown: "Blue is just eating pie!"

- Greg, honey, you may think you know what "tough love" is based on the way your folks apparently treat you, up to and including putting you on this show. But trust me on this: insults and condescension ain't love — they ain't even tough.

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