Alaska State Troopers
Cops, the national phenomenon and ultimate coup for every resume building small time crook, has now been around for 20 years, yet only recently have the clones started to show themselves. Most recent is this little doozy from the NatGeo channel, Alaska State Troopers, a documentary show that manages to avoid that manufactured feel that has infiltrated most of reality TV.
By employing a stern voiceover and a focus on education over sensationalism it feels classier for sure, but it is also predictably more of a drag to watch. Since not a “whole heckuva lot” happens up there the producers are cornered into expounding upon the bizarre laws of Alaska and exhibiting a preoccupation with the type of cars that the troopers drive. We've known for many years why most people choose not to live in the Last Frontier, but now we also have some idea as to why most TV shows tend to avoid the place as well.
Since it is a show about cops and law enforcement and things of that nature there is a very prevalent top down worldview on display. For most, one would hope, there is no entertainment value in sitting around and watching a meathead cop tell a 19-year-old kid to "man up" and take responsibility for his "decisions" (i.e.: admit guilt to his alleged crime). They also have an odd strategy for dealing with censorship. At one point a drunken driver suffers a "really gnarly gash" on his forehead so they bend over backwards to make sure that every drop of blood is blurred out. Then, a few scenes later, they are more than happy to show us all the gory details as a moose is executed and then butchered in the middle of the road. That's fine, they can do whatever they want, but it remains uncertain if it actually makes any logical sense.
There is also a lot of focus given to the intense training that the recruits must endure if they hope to one day become so lucky as to be called an Alaskan State Trooper. Many of the scenes are fresh and informative. Most people probably aren't aware that to become a trooper one must overcome a boot camp like experience during which some of the highlights include being belittled for making "victim noises," a severe mace spraying, and the joy of being dumped on an island without food or shelter and left there for days on end. It also feels a little gratuitous. At the end of the day we're really just watching people suffer as they swim in ice-cold water and eat raw crabs found on the island. To call it Fear Factor would be going too far but there were certainly some cynical decisions made by the producers here.
Much more so than the other shows that rip off Cops' format this one feels like a serious work of documentary filmmaking. MTV's Busted plays like a bad after school special with lukewarm life lesson delivered, testimonial style, from the perps themselves. The Real Police Women of Broward County goes for the campy reality TV viewers where we're asked to get to know these police officers on a personal basis and think of them as real people (no thanks). With Alaska State Troopers the battle between fascist cops and idiotic criminals does rage on but it is not the only thing happening. Instead the entire system is put under the microscope and examined. Most of the information is clearly filler and will be deleted by your brain immediately, but hopefully some of it will stick. Nowadays there is something honorable about a show that is only partially – as opposed to wholeheartedly – cynical.