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WYPR Arts

'30 Days' in Someone Else's Shoes

ALEX CHADWICK, host:

This is DAY TO DAY from NPR News. I'm Alex Chadwick.

For his experiential documentary "Super Size Me," Morgan Spurlock videoed himself eating nothing but fast food from McDonald's for a month. Now he's trying experiential TV with a new series on the FX cable network. The show's called "30 Days." Here's DAY TO DAY TV critic Andrew Wallenstein.

ANDREW WALLENSTEIN reporting:

The premise of "30 Days" is simple: A person spends 30 days in someone else's shoes from an entirely different walk of life. For example, a Christian man lives with a Muslim household, or a straight man immerses himself in the gay community. In the process, the subject learns how the other lives and the viewer gets a vicarious education, as well. In a country where diversity and divisiveness often go hand in hand, "30 Days" is a blessing.

Spurlock, who serves as host of the series, makes himself the subject of the first episode. It focuses on what life is like living on a minimum-wage salary. Instead of 30 days of Big Macs, it's 30 days of little money, as he and his fiance gave up all their worldly goods and attempts to subsist on $5.15 an hour. The cameras capture their every move as they literally start from scratch.

(Soundbite of "30 Days")

Mr. MORGAN SPURLOCK (Host, "30 Days"): I'm concerned about what's going to happen just because I am so bad with money. It's--I mean, I'm the worst. I'm the worst.

Ms. BRIDGET BENNETT: You are the worst. You're going to have to learn how to budget. When was the last time you made a budget for living?

Mr. SPURLOCK: A budget for living? What's that?

(Soundbite of laughter)

WALLENSTEIN: There's a helpful counter and ticks off how much money they lose with every expenditure. Needless to say, the results aren't pretty. Here's Spurlock getting a harsh estimate of his new living conditions from his new landlord.

(Soundbite of "30 Days")

Unidentified Man: Two days ago, there was a street person living in here. We just changed the locks this morning.

Ms. BENNETT: Oh, wow.

Unidentified Man: And downstairs there was a crack house.

Mr. SPURLOCK: Right downstairs was just a crack house?

Unidentified Man: Yeah.

Ms. BENNETT: Oh, my God.

Unidentified Man: This is a little bit rougher area.

Mr. SPURLOCK: OK.

Ms. BENNETT: OK.

WALLENSTEIN: What's so great about what Spurlock does is he becomes part of the story rather than simply observing from the sidelines. The format helps illustrate the plight of millions of Americans in a way no average report could capture. It's not the most innovative format in the world, but Spurlock himself brings a kind of `Awe, shucks' charisma to his filmmaking that is really engaging. The episodes of "30 Days" where he serves as host instead of subject are not as interesting, but still enlightening.

"30 Days" is no average reality show. It blends education and entertainment with real panache, and does it especially well when Spurlock serves himself up as a guinea pig.

CHADWICK: The show "30 Days" starts tonight on the cable channel FX. Andrew Wallenstein is an editor with the Hollywood Reporter and a TV critic for DAY TO DAY. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.