Jonathan Storm: Alaska in Her Shadow

Sarah, Todd, and daughter Piper Palin return in Todd's boat from watching a fish-counting in Dillingham, Alaska. The first episode of the show lingers boringly on a fruitless wait for weather to clear, and Sarah's rock climbing.
Sarah, Todd, and daughter Piper Palin return in Todd's boat from watching a fish-counting in Dillingham, Alaska. The first episode of the show lingers boringly on a fruitless wait for weather to clear, and Sarah's rock climbing.

Sarah Palin looms larger than her state - albeit nonpolitically - in the dull debut of her reality show.

Posted: November 13, 2010

'Mama Grizzly" is the title of the first episode of Sarah Palin's Alaska, which, like so many reality shows, comes up short. It delivers only a couple of brown bears and virtually no entertainment, but plenty of Palin, Palin, and more Palin.

Maybe she's supposed to be the Mama Grizzly. She does give little Piper Palin a love tap for misbehaving, but other than that, she seems more like Mama Pussycat.

Political commentator? Party leader? Presidential candidate? Don't look for any of that stuff on the reality show that premieres on TLC Sunday at 8 p.m., set for an eight-episode run.

This is hardworking Sarah Palin, CrackBerry-addicted and supposedly writing and "doing research" out on the backyard concrete slab. She's the devoted mother, sportswoman and salt of the Earth, even if the bus-sized family RV looks like ones that cost half a million dollars.

There is the occasional conservative bon mot, and there is a scene in which she dons one of her red power suits and talks back to New York and Bill O'Reilly from the studio built by Fox News next to her house in Wasilla, on equipment operated by her husband, Todd.

But it's included to reveal another aspect of her rather mundane daily life, producer Mark Burnett having decided to spare us the commentary itself.

The left is aghast over the possibility that this show, on the same channel that brought you Jon & Kate Plus 8, 19 Kids and Counting, Toddlers & Tiaras, and Little People, Big World - not to mention Obese and Pregnant, Paralyzed and Pregnant, I Didn't Know I Was Pregnant, and, logically, Strange Sex - will somehow underscore Palin's presidential timbre and propel her to the White House.

Mimicking a technique that's usually found in the arsenal of the other side, Credoaction.com has gotten 94,000 people to sign an electronic petition calling for the show to be canceled before it ever hits TV.

Are they afraid it will do for Palin what TLC's latest family show, Sister Wives, is doing for bigamy? The police in Utah moved in to investigate.

Author Joe McGinniss moved in to investigate the Palins earlier this year, renting the house next door and freaking out his subjects. His lawyers, apparently, have persuaded TLC to remove some shots of him from the first episode, but they didn't even try to get Palin's "defamatory" comments excised. Too much precedent for that kind of stuff in reality TV.

Todd built a 14-foot fence to discourage snooping. "This is what we need to secure our nation's border," says Palin, unable to help herself.

Apparently fearing, among other things, that a 1,969-mile fence might add to the deficit and incense 15 million or so Latino voters, a lot of Republicans aren't that enamored with Palin, either, but they seem more sanguine, and savvy, about the possible political impact of Sarah Palin's Alaska.

Strategist/analyst Karl Rove told Britain's Daily Telegraph, "Appearing on your own reality show on the Discovery Channel - I am not certain how that fits in the American calculus of, 'That helps me see you in the Oval Office.' " Rove doesn't have all of his facts straight: Discovery is one of TLC's sister channels.

Palin herself avers in a promo, "I'd rather be doing this than in some dumpy political office." No offense to the oval one.

And really, who wouldn't? Taking off in a floatplane from your front-yard lake, flying all over the glorious wilderness. Climbing and hiking and fishing, though some might want to leave blasting away at defenseless caribou and other critters off the fun-time table. (The Palin freezer was getting low, we are told, and it's such a long wait in Alaska for those Omaha Steaks to arrive.)

Most will doubtless choose to leave this show off their viewing table, too. Burnett is the great outdoor-living reality producer, having cut his teeth covering the Eco Challenge marathon races and moved on to Survivor, where exotic nature photography is almost as big a draw as all those women in their teeny bikinis.

But the show has few sparks. A long segment in the first episode is spent waiting for the weather to clear. Spoiler alert: It doesn't.

The Amazing Race would cut Palin's lengthy rock-climbing adventure on account of boredom, and, except for a few minutes of cool footage of those brown bears, there is zero up-close coverage of creatures in the wild.

Unless you count Willow Palin's boyfriend trying to sneak up to her bedroom over the staircase gate. The Mama Grizzly threatens to count to three - such fierceness, such drama - and the boy returns to the living room couch.

Palin's accent, whatever you think of it in small bites, becomes so grating over an entire hour that you long for someone with long fingernails to bring in a blackboard, But even Don Pardo would become intolerable on the 387th declaration of love for the wonders of his home state.

Most fun reality shows have at least a small freak factor, as TLC knows so well. It dragged Kate Gosselin, plus her eight children, up to the woods to go camping with the Palins. Reports are that it didn't work out, and the scenes may not make it into the show, which is still being pieced together, though it started filming last spring. That's a sign not to expect big improvements as things progress.

It might have been better if TLC had rounded up a few of those catfighting Real Housewives, but they're on Bravo. Or the kids from Jersey Shore. But they're on MTV.

Besides, I hear a lot of people are worried that Snooki's considering a run for president in 2024.


Jonathan Storm:

Sarah Palin's Alaska

8 p.m. Sunday on TLC.


Contact television critic Jonathan Storm at 215-854-5618 or jstorm@phillynews.com. Read his recent work at http://go.philly. com/jonathanstorm.

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