Dobrow on Watching the Feds Catch the Perps

Media Reviews for Media People: Spike's 'DEA'

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When the Nashville Network ditched the "Hee Haw" reruns and reinvented itself as mega-macho TNN and eventually Spike, guys everywhere wept with joy. Finally, a place for us! Never again would we suffer the massive indignity of happening upon Joy Behar or an ad. We could simply park the tube on Spike and bury the clicker deep in the couch cushions.
'DEA' tails a crew of feds around Detroit as they attempt to bust drug traffickers.
'DEA' tails a crew of feds around Detroit as they attempt to bust drug traffickers. Credit: Spike

Only later were we informed that 82% of all televised content is oriented toward guys who like to watch crap get blown up. Imagine our sense of betrayal upon learning that Spike was founded upon a lie, that fare such as "Manimal" and "The Kennedy Center Presents: Groin Shot Symphony" has always been there for the taking. We quickly returned to traipsing around the cable dial in search of boobies and barbarism, a touch more jaded than before.

So no, I've never seen much reason for Spike to exist, especially now that it has devolved into a five-program network. Try flipping to Spike at random intervals over the next few days; more often than not, you'll land on a "CSI" rerun, "The Ultimate Fighter," "TNA Impact," "DEA" or whatever Star Wars flick the net happens to be slicing into bite-size bits that evening. We fellers may be bored, but we're not that bored. Spike deserves credit for the note-perfect "Joe Schmo Show" and its early embrace of mixed martial arts, but beyond that, the net ain't exactly VH1 in the know-thy-audience department.

This should've changed with "DEA," which tails a crew of feds around Detroit as they attempt to bust drug traffickers. It didn't, because the show's producers -- including Al Roker, trading in his happysmile floppypants for urban grit -- don't trust their footage.

There's a cool show in here somewhere, which makes it doubly frustrating when the producers attempt to obscure it. The intricacies of chasing down dealers and building drug prosecutions aren't compelling enough for twitchy Spike viewers, it seems, so "DEA" gussies 'em up with all sorts of audio and visual enhancements. To enliven surveillance sequences, the show tints its footage yellow -- unless they occur at night, in which case night-vision green gets the nod.

A gravelly voiced narrator pops in from time to time to solemnly intone that a standoff is "dangerous" or that chasing down an elusive perp is "frustrating." Meanwhile, you'd think it would be possible to set siege footage to a soundtrack that doesn't resemble the "Copacabana" percussion break.

The "DEA" concept, like "Cops" and "Jail," should have been impossible to screw up. Why? Because guys enjoy sass-talkin' perps, the implied threat of gunplay and goatees that half-shroud the triple chins of law-enforcement personnel, all of which "DEA" has in abundance. You know what else the producers enjoy? Nicknames. "DEA" features agents who go by the noms de plume of "Woody," "Shaggy" and "Country." After watching three eps, I still can't decide whether "Country" is a hick or a patriot -- or both.

It doesn't help that the DEA folks come across as dry and professional, which clashes with the flashy visual presentation. I'm happy to have these guys protecting me from the global scourge of wacky tobacky, but I'd rank them below the ever-delightful Dick Cavett on the list of potential dinner-party guests. They ask questions like "What's your malfunction?" and appear to have sunglasses surgically fused to their faces. In their soliloquies to the camera, they soberly expound upon their job responsibilities and wonder aloud why crack-house denizens never take out the garbage. (Okay, they don't -- but I do. There's nothing in those domiciles that a push broom and a few crates of lemon-fresh Pledge can't fix.)

At least the right marketers seem to be onboard. Anything that makes vroom-vroom noises (Mazda, Yamaha motorcycles, Midas, Castrol GTX) or lards up the ol' torso (McDonald's, Pizza Hut, Dave & Buster's) is a great fit on "DEA." While the agents' work-wear label of choice, Under Armour, gets a handful of unpaid-for plugs, the brand that shines brightest is that of the DEA itself. The agents aren't portrayed as the suit-clad, line-toeing automatons seen in other popular fictions; rather, they're shown thinking like ace detectives and busting down doors like gutsy SWAT-team members. Hello, recruiting video.

Still, after spending a few hours with "DEA," I offer this simple plea: Let's place a moratorium on "reality" series that depict "ordinary" people doing their jobs. We don't need "America's Next Hot Bank Teller," "The Bellhop Shuffle" or "Actually, Actuary!" (fine, that last one has promise). We're running out of professions and personalities that can sustain our interest for more than five minutes at a time. If we've reached a point where actual DEA footage can't float our collective boat, it's time to start chasing a new gimmick.
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