VIDEO: TV Nation

TV Nation
Columbia/Tri-Star Home Video

It's hard to imagine Michael Moore's TV Nation getting a prime-time slot these days, but three years ago this series looked like some kind of Yippie prank spilled onto the airwaves. The show took its tone from Moore's skewed documentary Roger & Me (1989), which earned laughs from the same uneasy mix of condescension and solidarity. Roger & Me put both workers and corporate spokespeople before Moore's shaky lens, letting them play stooge to his deadpan questions about GM's labor practices--as if Barbara Kopple's American Dream had been hijacked by David Letterman.

With TV Nation, Moore and company assembled a composite critique of '90s American decline, from NAFTA plant flight and gated communities to aquariums as urban-renewal schemes. Often in danger of OD'ing on wistful sarcasm, the show tended to err on the side of laughter--never more so than in the episode where filmmaker Rusty Cundieff (Fear of a Black Hat) buys some burley white slaves in Mississippi just before the state ratifies the 13th Amendment (finally). Elsewhere in this two-volume/four-episode collection (which also includes a pair of unaired "bonus segments"), Moore hosts a Corporate Aid Concert benefit for big-loss biz plaintiffs, with Steven Wright warning the crowd Woodstock-style: "People, there's some bad investment tips going around. Stay away from the 20-year beauty bonds."

If some of the gimmicks grate, like the "Crackers the Corporate Crime-fighting Chicken" bit, Moore is also able to locate surprise laughs, like the hurt look on Crackers's face when he's excluded from a press conference. And even without the unaired segments (a search for small-sized condoms, a profile of a kid who pickets AIDS funerals), the price of this collection would be justified by the "Love Night" episode alone--in which Moore combats hate by sending a mariachi band to a Klan rally, and persuades the high command of the Michigan Militia to ride with him on a tilt-a-whirl singing "If I Had a Hammer." It's a joke, sure, but Moore really wants to convert these guys to nonviolence and third-party politics.

In its short life, TV Nation was allowed to show that there's space on the tube for funny, left-field leftism. Not coincidentally, it lasted only that long.

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