Are you worried that your alarm clock might possess carcinogenic properties? Have you considered the possibility that your misshapen toenails presage early-onset dementia? Does the chance that your children -- your beautiful, innocent children! -- could happen upon easy-to-obtain Mexican quaaludes while searching the internet for Bible-themed earthenware fill you with dread?
If so, do I have a show for you: "The Doctors." Taking the alarmist teases from your local newscasters to the next illogical level ("six popular sports drinks tainted with rodent herpes -- we'll tell you which ones at 11, plus the accu-weekend forecast and 'Sports with Sal!'"), "The Doctors" unearths ick-dappled terror in artifacts from everyday living. For individuals who are convinced the fates won't rest until they have stricken every newborn with gaggy death in the form of fist-wide pacifiers, "The Doctors" is a godsend.
For the rest of us, the show comes across as an elaborate practical joke. I started watching after learning that its creators are readying a legal-themed spin-off for the post-Oprah wasteland of 2011. After two weeks, I find myself captivated, for all the wrong reasons.
For one, less than half of what "The Doctors" discuss is medical-oriented. The show delights in presenting betcha-didn't-know situations and amplifying the potential dangers. This week, for instance, a woman described as an "anonymous head housekeeper" at a major hotel chain called in to share her tales of infectious ice buckets, sinks cleaned with just-used toilet brushes, and bodily fluids seeping into every non-hermetically-sealed surface. The only possible conclusion after watching this segment was that one should never stay in a hotel, ever, even if given a free coupon for the breakfast buffet. "The Doctors" did not bother to challenge the whistleblower's claims by, say, running them by another person in the hospitality business.
The show title misleads. Take the following come-on from its website ("We're looking for people who want to be involved in a toothbrush survey!"), or take one of the lead pitches from Wednesday's harrowing survey of "Shocking Health Traps!" ("The wrong shoe is a hidden health trap!"). "The Doctors" is a medical show like "Two and a Half Men" is a deeply felt tutorial on dwarfism. And I say that before we've gotten too far into "May Month of Medicine," which promises segments on bathing-suit aesthetics and the eternal struggle against "excessive sweating down there!"
It doesn't have to be this way, as the four panelists are clearly able to communicate ably on a range of complicated medical topics -- as evidenced by an easy breakdown of the sensory deficiencies that contribute to multiple sclerosis. More often than not, however, they make scrunchy-gross faces and titter among themselves (about the outre practice of sleeping in the nude, among other things). The lead panelists mostly ask pre-programmed questions, nod their heads and exclaim, "Interesting!" The elder statesman looks and acts like he wandered off the set of a hospital soap opera.
The guy for whom I feel worst, though, is Dr. Jim Sears. Obviously bright enough to graduate from medical school and head a successful pediatric practice, Sears has been assigned the thankless role of panel funnyman. As a result, he makes other teleboob-laureates -- Terry Bradshaw, Scooby-Doo, etc. -- look like voices of reason.
This week, the producers sent the poor guy into the field for a report that I'd have titled "Living Room Flambé." As part of it, a local fire department set up a typical den in a parking lot, then revealed that some of the items therein might be -- wait for it -- flammable. Here's his actual commentary as a set of cotton curtains went up in flames: "Okay, wow, this is hot. Holy cow, look at that...Okay, whoa, I'm gonna move away from this." The segment's intended take-away, as best as I could tell: Do not intentionally set fire to items in your living room. It will not surprise you to learn that the segment concluded with a love-ya-bro fist-bump.
This intentional slow-wittedness, this assumption that daytime viewers just don't know any better, galls me most about "The Doctors." "The Dr. Oz Show" has proven that a show of this ilk can be simultaneously intelligent and entertaining. "The Doctors," sadly, chooses to operate (pun violently, viciously intended) on a low, smarmy level.
I also worry about the potential for confusion, given the number of health and lifestyle marketers who do business with "The Doctors." While the show features a tiny-print disclaimer at its conclusion -- something about "any mention of a product doesn't mean that we like it or recommend it, even though that huge Dr. Scholl's display couldn't possibly be construed as anything other than a please-buy-their-orthotics call to action" -- the ads bleed too easily into the show's clangy segments. Let's say somebody is using "The Doctors" as background noise while watering the plants or silently pondering where it all went wrong. They might take the ad content -- about the incredible energy property of eggs, about the fat-B-gone miracle that is Quick Trim -- as medical fact.
Am I overreacting? Maybe, but really: If "The Doctors" believes its audience needs to be told not to plug 32 contraptions into a single electrical outlet, we shouldn't assume that those same viewers can distinguish between an in-show plug for Bayer and a between-segments ad for Cymbalta or Cindy Crawford's furniture line (now with asphyxiative throw pillows of fear!). Let's err on the side of caution here.
I don't know what else to say. Had I not been told otherwise, I would've thought that "The Doctors" was a "Saturday Night Live" skit lampooning hysterical local-news segments that play, in the cutesy-cutesiest way possible, on viewers' health-related fears. That's my next experiment, showing it to some friends and seeing if they can tell the difference. I'll report my results as they come in.