Hoarders: when emotional drama is worse than the poop, watch out

Hoarders returned for its sixth season, and it as just as tragic, educational, horrific, and disturbing as always. But at least in this episode, it was less about the stuff–and even less about the poop, though there was a toilet full of it and some next to Matt Paxton’s head while he tried to sleep–and more about the deep psychological wounds that hoarding attempts to fill.

The A&E series has always focused on that to some degree, but last night’s episode felt like the equation flipped, so that it was 20 percent poop/clean-up/mess and 80 percent family/mental illness/facing reality/damaged relationships. How tragic was the mother of four male children admitting “I really never liked boys” and basically rejecting her son while he stood there and listened?

There were a few moments when I thought the therapists pushed too much and even just reached for drama, like a woman breaking a glass mug that represented her abusive ex-husband or interrupting a conversation to initiate direct confrontation with a family member. But the results seemed positive: both hoarders are seeing the therapists that the show offers to pay for, and both seemed to have made progress. “You’ve given me my life back,” Patty said.

The new sleepover format worked kind of well: I liked Matt touring the house by himself, and his quick abandonment of the experiment (and this is a guy who’s seen shit, literally and figuratively) told us a lot (“just the pure sadness to live here”). But spending the night in a house no one actually lives in any more seemed gimmicky. In future episodes, I’m hoping we see the organizer and/or therapists spending the night in occupied houses with the family to learn more about their lives.

(Update: Matt is answering questions at A&E, and says that he spent seven hours in the house before leaving, and also says it was fellow organizer Cory’s idea to do this, and only the two of them will be staying in hoards. Matt adds, “I think with all the editing, our point didn’t come across. We wanted the viewer to get a glimpse into the complete hoarders mindset and it does.”)

One other complaint: The new editing that the show started last season improves the show in many ways–it’s not the same formula episode to episode, with the house tour and things taking up the first half hour; it moves more rapidly into the action now. I also really like the makeover part of the show, where they don’t just empty and clean the house, but really refresh it. (They could really use some design help, but I digress.)

But I really hate the accompanying idiot editing that so many shows use, previewing the entire episode instead of a cold open. And Hoarders takes it a step further with a post-credits flash-forward to drama, as if to say, Hold on, dumb people with no attention spans! There will be shit and yelling soon! The show is smarter than that, and so is its audience.

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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.