2/11/11

Season One of "Brad Meltzer's Decoded" - What's Up With This Show?

When it comes to television, I've always loved 20/20, CBS' Sunday Morning, and as much non-fiction as I can get. There's a name for this type of programming and its called documentary television. And it's one of my many media addictions. I love all things PBS. I've recently discovered An Idiot Abroad, a priceless travel show hosted by an average Englishman hand-picked by Ricky Gervais and Steven Merchant for his many similarities to Homer Simpson. I even love Destination Truth, a sometimes laughably goofy SyFy show that travels the world looking for cryptids. I'll watch any documentary TV having anything to do with travel especially if there's humor involved. (It's a big part of the reason why I started our little web series about theme parks, which is still very much in development.)


So when the History Channel started airing a show called Brad Meltzer's Decoded, I was an easy sell. However, after watching the first few episodes I wasn't as convinced as I thought I would be. Each episode seemed to follow the same cynical formula and the tone was entirely too serious. Three investigators trying to track down political conspiracy theories, interviewing sources, and promptly blowing them off. Even though I agreed with the investigators in their skepticism, these moments irked my inner-journalist. You don't create a show designed to track down wacky mysteries and then mistreat the people you choose to interview by immediately scoffing at their ideas and treating them like they're crazy. That's the first rule of journalism, you treat your sources with respect, no matter what you personally believe about their opinions or beliefs. Because they don't have to talk with you at all, the fact that they are willing to share information with you should be enough to earn your respect.

Also, each time the cast ended up behind the scenes with any official parties involved in one of their mysteries they believed everything they said without question. So they were treating the conspiracy theorists like nuts and treating the officials like everything they said was gospel. Isn't that how real life usually goes, why have a show about that? For example, they received a tour of a Masonic lodge from a 33rd degree Mason, after which they essentially closed up shop and ended the episode. It just didn't feel very thorough or committed. "Welp, we got ourselves a tour of a Mason museum, guess that's all there is to it!" Really? That's it? And Christine McKinley, the team's engineer, seemed to be the worst offender, unable to contain her distaste when interviewing conspiracy theorists about the Statue of Liberty, making faces at them and flat out arguing with them. Like I said, I usually agreed with her frustrations. But what's the point in having a show about this stuff if you won't hear people out?

So for a while I stopped watching. I thought, why even bother creating a real life X-Files if every episode is going to treat its own material as though it's foolish and far-fetched? If every member of the team is a skeptic, where's the fun?

The episode that won me back was episode seven which focused on something called "The Bohemian Grove". Again, I'm not a conspiracy theorist. So it wasn't the content, though that was interesting enough. It was the lengths that the team went to in order to get the story. They went to the Grove, they tried to get in, they respected the people they interviewed and they were even arrested for trespassing. Not that I endorse illegal behavior, but the cast stopped sitting back on their heels and scoffing at people and started taking risks and getting involved with their content. They moved the show from conceptual to actual.

Also, the cast seems like it has started to gel. The humor is playing a larger part as the cast begins to joke around with each other and respect their interviews, effectively lightening the tone and creating a pivot point for the show which is now fun to watch even if the evidence at hand is weak or nill. This gives it a similar appeal as Destination Truth, a show you don't watch because you think they're actually going to find Bigfoot, but because the cast is funny and you get to see parts of the world not commonly featured in film or television. Travel shows like these satiate the Indiana Jones adventure junkies who can't really jet off to follow every nifty idea of intriguing mystery. And I know, because I'm one of them.

Also, more humor has been added to the narration. Brad Meltzer (an author who focuses on conspiracy theories) now speaks less like Rod Serling and more like a self-aware nerd. In a good way. Here's an example of a recent bit of dialogue from Meltzer, "Now a scientist is saying that its possible that a huge asteroid might hit the Earth. That's when I usually yell, 'Bruce Willis, save us!'"

If you're interested in travel, conspiracy theories or documentary TV, you should consider giving this series a shot at this point. Because it's still new, the show can differ greatly from episode to episode and I don't know if it will grow into something with a lasting legacy. But that's normal when a show is in development and finding its own unique personality during its initial season. (Go back and watch season one of any of your favorite shows and marvel at how different in tone it is. Amazing, huh?)

 I hope the show starts steering away from "end of the world" type conspiracies and focuses more on things that can be investigated on physical locations. That's when the show really seems to shine. And I'm already so sick and tired of hearing about 2012 that I can't see straight. So I hope they'll continue to go in the direction of looking at secret societies or mysterious artifacts and locations giving the viewers something visual and tangible to focus on. Check out a preview of the show below, which will give you a good idea of the production value but doesn't take into account the show's recent turn toward humor.




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