Kid Nation is “well-packaged,” “adorable,” “sedate,” and “creepy”

TV critics weren’t allowed to screen CBS’ Kid Nation before it was broadcast last night, so the first reviews are in this morning. While no one really expected to tune in to see a kid fall off a cliff and get crushed by a boulder, the reviews still seem a bit deflated and almost disappointed. It’s just a reality show with a cast of kids, and their interaction isn’t anywhere near as disturbing as it is on Discovery’s Endurance, a Survivor-like show for teenagers.

Perhaps most surprising, as I pointed out in my review, was that there was a solid adult presence in the form of a host, rules, and other forms of structure, never mind that the producers picked four kids to be leaders, which made the show more contrived than everyone thought it would be.

Here’s a round-up of the mixed reactions from other critics:

The New York Times’ Alessandra Stanley: “‘Kid Nation’ is at its core a well-packaged MTV-style group-dynamics show, but with Disney-age participants: ‘It’s a Real World After All.'”

Los Angeles Times’ Robert Lloyd: “The appeal of the series is rooted in the fact that adults habitually underestimate the sophistication of children, while children don’t recognize the degree to which their sophistication is tempered by inexperience. Whatever else it is, or may be, it is adorable; to the extent that it’s disturbing onscreen, it’ll be an 8 p.m. on CBS kind of disturbing: revolution will not be televised. This isn’t ‘The Lord of the Flies’ — for better or worse, just offscreen, the grown-ups are still in charge.”

The Chicago Tribune’s Maureen Ryan: “There was one brief shoving match on the program, in which a 15 year old ‘got in the face’ of an 11 year old, but most of the program was pretty sedate, if not a bit bland.”

The Boston Globe’s Matthew Gilbert: “There is just something grotesque and creepy about seeing children being deployed on reality TV, a genre that we all know thrives on conflict, tears, humiliation, and exhibitionism. Kiddie talent shows can be disturbing enough, but at least those tots practice their performances ahead of time.”

The Washington Post’s Tom Shales: “Since the first commercial break didn’t come until 38 minutes into the show, there’s reason to suspect that sponsors, fearing contamination by controversy, stayed away in the proverbial droves — or one drove at least. Among those who remained: the makers of a ‘screening kit for vaginal infections,’ of questionable taste on a show bound to attract viewers as young as its cast.”

Detroit Free Press’ Julie Hinds: “Part of the fun of any reality show is having a laugh at the adults who participate. But even though ‘Kid Nation’ presents its players as smart, spunky and resourceful, it’s not very amusing to see them get teary over missing their moms or to watch them being edited into the familiar stereotypes — the bully, the earnest leader, the class clown — that populate reality TV.”

‘Kid Nation’ shows real side of young relations [MSNBC]
Just Like a Supervised ‘Real World,’ for Children [New York Times]
Kid Nation [Los Angeles Times]
‘Kid Nation’ finally airs. So what happened? [Chicago Tribune]
There’s not much fun in ‘Kid Nation’ [Boston Globe]
‘Kid Nation': Grow Up, CBS! [Washington Post]
‘Kid Nation’ is the Mini-Me of ‘Survivor,’ minus the fun [Detroit Free Press]

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about the writer

Andy Dehnart is a journalist who has covered reality television for more than 15 years and created reality blurred in 2000. A member of the Television Critics Association, his writing and criticism about television, culture, and media has appeared on NPR and in Playboy, Buzzfeed, and many other publications. Andy, 36, also directs the journalism program at Stetson University in Florida, where he teaches creative nonfiction and journalism. He has an M.F.A. in nonfiction writing and literature from Bennington College. More about reality blurred and Andy.