Could "Alaska State Troopers,'' the reality series, possibly be as bad as some of the national reviews make it out to be?
What did we learn from the first episode of this National Geographic TV series?
Wrestlers bundled in cold-weather clothing, be they drunk or sober, are slower moving and seemingly less dangerous than those in shorts and T-shirts. Some of our troopers are really nice and others are as shady as Soapy Smith.
Make sure your "license plate lights" aren't shining too bright when you go out tonight. One patrolman in "Alaska State Troopers" stops a woman because her lights are somehow not quite right. Then we learn -- surprise, surprise -- that she's on probation for a felony. We're supposed to believe she was pulled over by a K-9 trooper, one of the few in the state, who didn't have a clue. OK, coincidences can happen. Get out the drug dog. Search the truck. Go through the woman's pack of cigarettes. Find the piece of plastic that must have cocaine residue on it.
Oops. No cocaine residue.
Unfortunately, this is sort of how the whole show goes. There's a lot of oops, nothing.
"There's glaciers all over,'' one trooper on snowmachine patrol in the Alaska Range says as a camera pans fog. "You just can't see them.''
Something similar can be said for the point of the show; if it's there, it can't be seen. The first episode (there are more to come) was sad in the way it sometimes made troopers look like a bunch of far-north cowboys: OK, we got to have fun a buckin' and a ridin' around the country on our snowmachines today. Now, gosh dang, we're gonna have to go to work breakin' up some fights at this here snowgo party. Man's gotta earn his keep.
Only this description makes the show sound a whole lot more entertaining than it is. It's really just plain boring; a lame knock-off of "Cops," with little action to make up for the lack of plot or storyline. "Cop-sicles" is what one Outside reviewer called "Alaska State Troopers."
The only real excitement in the first episode came when troopers themselves got into what looks for a second or two to be a serious fight. As it turns out, the fight is a "training exercise,'' and both the trooper and his assailant are troopers. Obviously even the producers of the show thought "Alaska State Troopers" was getting so dull they had to do something.
Other than this one fight, the show just sort of muddles along. Fans of "Cops" won't be able to hang with it 10 minutes. There's a tussle at the Arctic Man Ski and Sno-Go Competition -- Alaska's annual snowmachine Woodstock -- and then troopers buzz off into the mountains on their sleds to stand around, and stand around, and stand around some more, waiting for a helicopter evac of an injured snowmachiner.
I'm sure I've seen worse TV. I can't remember when, though.
Later, viewers get to watch for too long as a trooper helicopter whoop, whoop, whoops over a dead moose floating in a lake, giving just enough time to allow speculation on how it could have died of "lead poisoning.'' Did it really? Who knows. The helicopter can't land. It just keeps circling this big, brown, hairy blob floating in the water. The scene ends with a comment about how troopers need a float plane to investigate and will return later.
They don't. The show ends with a note that the lake froze over. Bears ate the moose. The "evidence'' was lost.
All of which begs a question: If the moose was shot and left to be eaten by bears, is the shooter -- if there was one -- guilty of wanton waste or feeding wildlife? It wouldn't seem you can have it both ways, because if the bears ate the moose it actually didn't go to waste after all.
Maybe things will get better when the next episode moves to the Kenai Peninsula, but I have my doubts. I went online to watch a preview that features a pair of riverboaters retrieved (rescued would appear to be an overstatement) by helicopter from the Twentymile River Valley, "an area with one of the highest concentrations of bear maulings in Alaska.'' Yes, that is what the show claims. Somehow I've previously missed this, even though I spend up to 30 days a year tromping around in the Twentymile country.
Some outside reviewers have opined that "Alaska State Troopers" will do a disservice to Alaska. It does make the state look almost overrun with drunks, and somehow National Geographic manages to make a lot of the scenery look ho-hum.
The disservice in the first episode was, however, to state troopers. These are people who all too often work alone to enforce the laws in remote corners of a state with more than its share of whack-jobs and lowlifes. The show does keep reminding that most of these people are armed. But in the bigger scheme of things, that might be the least of the problems.
If you patrol car quits on the highway at 50 degrees below zero, you can be in big trouble. If you find yourself all alone with a mob of drunks at Arctic Man, things could get dangerous. And even something as seemingly innocent as chasing an unarmed suspect off the road into the woods can prove deadly, as residents of Southcentral Alaska well know.
Trooper Bruce Heck did exactly that in pursuit of a robbery suspect along the Glenn Highway in 1997, and it cost him his life. He died of either suffocation or a heart arrhythmia during a struggle. As is so often the case with troopers, he was working alone at the time. He had no backup.
It is a dangerous job, being a trooper in Alaska.
"Alaska State Troopers" keeps repeating this message, but what is presented on screen paints a different picture. Think "Cops-lite: At play in the Wilderness.'' and you get the idea. Unfortunately, the show isn't as interesting as that would make it seem.
Contact Craig Medred at craig_alaskadispatch.com