'Kid Nation' Might Be More Terrifying Than 'Lord Of The Flies'

You know how reality TV in general is condescending and exploitative, to its audiences and participants both? Well CBS' new reality show Kid Nation — think Lord of the Flies without Simon plotting to kill and without Piggy tumbling to his death — is all these things but worse. Because, naturally, it involves children. So while last night's episode had the kids in question crying about being homesick and yearning for a stinky-free bathroom, it had critics crying for America's children and yearning for a less banal hour of television. (Pretty bad when Gossip Girl starts to look like Masterpiece Theatre, eh?) The critics speak, after the jump.



Washington Post:

If nothing else, "Kid Nation" will teach them the value of money. Or at least that pursuing it is the noblest activity available to humankind... Once they were divided into teams, the kids became instantly territorial (or so it was made to appear), prompting one boy to shout, "Screw the blue team!" One wonders if the mighty arm of the Federal Communications Commission will swoop down and slap that kid with a hefty fine for using bad language. Those children may not have a nanny, but the United States does.
Entertainment Weekly :
What the hell do they do with all these badass kids? The answer is the only thing logic, common sense, and the producers could dictate: gangs. After assigning colors, bandannas, and graffiti taggers, and before you could say 'Boyz n the Hood', they were off on their first 'Survivor'-tyke mission... How troubling was it to see a 14-year-old learnin' the wee ones on ''the three dance moves that will get you through life''? How soon till she escalates from nickels to dollars, and graduates from the street to the pole? Don't look at me like that. I'm not the one who taught that child to dance for money.
Chicago Tribune :
Small, cute creatures were definitely in danger on the Wednesday premiere of "Kid Nation." No, it wasn't the 40 kids on the CBS reality show. Some children on the program decided to go jackrabbit hunting, but when they threw rocks, their aim wasn't great. Be assured that, in the first episode anyway, no fluffy bunnies were hurt during the making of "Kid Nation"... There was one brief shoving match on the program, in which a 15 year old "got in the face" of an 11 year old, but most of the program was pretty sedate, if not a bit bland.
Boston Globe :
Watching the CBS reality show, which premiered after months of anti-hype, was as much fun as baby-sitting overtired tots who've had one too many Sweet Tarts... "Kid Nation" will in no way truly represent what children would do left to their own devices in a deserted town. There are cameramen and medical professionals on hand, of course, and also host Jonathan Karsh... And how can we enjoy rooting for someone's downfall, or making fun of someone's shortcomings, when they're just a kid? The show puts viewers in a bad position.
MSNBC :
CBS' controversial 'Kid Nation' finally debuted Wednesday night, and the show's first episode was alternatingly uncomfortable, inspiring, and awkward. Its cast of teenagers and pre-teens were sometimes mean, frustrating, or annoying, but they also proved themselves to be remarkably self-sufficient, smart, articulate, and funny. In short, they were real, and rather entertaining... 'Kid Nation' has proven that once in the situation, the kids can function, and maybe teach the rest of us something along the way.
Toronto Star :
Last night's premiere of 'Kid Nation' was a thundering bore... The first show was manipulative and rang false. Nobody could possibly believe a word of it....The youngsters uttered lines that seemed supplied by the network, but that happens on all these shows. They cried for their parents or just wandered around. What a downer this one quickly turned out to be.
Detroit Free Press :
Would the creators of 'Kid Nation' please go to their room for a time-out and come up with something more original?... Part of the fun of any reality show is having a laugh at the adults who participate. But even though 'Kid Nation' presents its players as smart, spunky and resourceful, it's not very amusing to see them get teary over missing their moms or to watch them being edited into the familiar stereotypes — the bully, the earnest leader, the class clown — that populate reality TV.
New York Magazine :
Like any good reality show, Kid Nation's strengths are in its characters, and the most remarkable aspect of these characters so far is their intellectual superiority to adults on reality shows — they use big words and make funny jokes! And if we can swallow our unease with the values these stage-parent offspring "from all walks of life" are learning (hint: they're all striving to be labeled "upper class") and the fact that the show bears more than a passing resemblance to long-running Saturday-morning staple Discovery Kids: Endurance, it should be a fun ride, like summer camp (albeit one located in a deserted mining town with no adults in sight).
Variety :
Separate from any controversy about child-labor laws or Draconian legal waivers, parts of the show are a bit creepy. In the debut, the kids are told that they can decide to "give up" and leave at the town halls (tribal councils?), a phrase loaded with "You don't want to be a quitter, do you?" peer pressure. And while there's nothing new about the kid who misses his parents and cries a lot at summer camp, there is something intrusive about having a camera shoved into that kid's face.
Los Angeles Times :
Indeed, I cannot even profess to be shocked - shocked! — to find TV executives acting like TV executives, thinking up new ways to make the most money from the least investment and covering their hindquarters with a contract written like a gazillionaire's pre-nup, designed to protect them utterly in case of disaster, disease or discontent. What does remain strange to me - I won't even call it alarming - is what people will sign in order to be on television, the flagpole-sit of our day. Even stranger, that they will sign it in the name of their children....The appeal of the series is rooted in the fact that adults habitually underestimate the sophistication of children, while children don't recognize the degree to which their sophistication is tempered by inexperience. Whatever else it is, or may be, it is adorable; to the extent that it's disturbing onscreen...