"Who's going to love my child?” asks the father of a 7-year-old boy named Hailey, who wears dresses, identifies as a girl and plays with dolls. “Who’s going to fall in love with her?” Our America is straightforward and honest, giving the mind something to chew on.
The focus here is on the nitty-gritty, the provocative, the unglamorous. It explores the sometimes awkward recesses of the culturally taboo, immersing viewers in social controversial topics that some might rather see swept under the rug.
Lisa Ling (The View’s former Generation X golden child) doesn’t tell you what to think about faith healers, sex offenders, the transgendered, “praying the gay away” or mail-order brides. Rather, she encourages viewers to make their own judgments.
Were the subject matter presented for entertainment shock value, drizzled with the melodramatic sap of Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, or spearheaded by someone theatrical and self-absorbed (like Tyra Banks), Our America could have sunk to the level of Wife Swap.
But Ling nimbly toes the tightrope of non-partisanship. She’s personable and compassionate, taking care to explore both ends of the opinion spectrum by asking questions for skeptics and believers, sympathizers and opponents.
“I’ve been to heaven,” a 20-something faith healer tells her. “Were you on drugs?” she asks. Ling gets emotionally invested, especially with her voice-overs — a questionable element that critics may argue compromises her objectivity. Yet as curiosity mounts with each new character (“How is this flamboyant, monster-truck-driving minister not an embezzling charlatan?”), Ling is there, directly but respectfully prodding the elephants in the room.
Even without Ling’s narrative, the raw footage is powerful enough to stand on its own — like the shot of a loner paraplegic descending in a glass elevator into the sanctuary of a mega-church, where he’s hoping to be healed.
“This is just a blink compared to eternity,” he later tells the camera, with heart-wrenching disappointment but unflagging resolve.
I cried during the first two episodes, and I’m not blaming the wine I was drinking.
Ling or no Ling, the people and their stories broaden your perspective.
That’s good TV.
Our America with Lisa Ling, Tuesdays, 10 pm, OWN
Destination Truth: Live from Ireland
Obviously you’ll be doing Irish car bombs at O’Doherty’s or Whiskey Dick’s when this airs, so record it. What better way to suffer through the morning after St. Patrick’s than watching paranormal investigators and ghost hunters explore the ruins of Duckett’s Grove Castle in Ireland and confront the banshee myth? (Syfy, March 17, 7 pm)
Beyond Scared Straight
If your kid’s a punk, make him or her watch this show, in which at-risk teens get a taste of what’s coming if they don’t get their act together. Convicted murderers escort youth around state prisons, exposing them to degrading conditions such as no-privacy rules, strip searches and feces-throwing. If that doesn’t do the trick, sign your unruly offspring up for the show.
(A&E, Thursdays, 10 pm)
Who Do You Think You Are?
Watching celebrities visit genealogists and historians in a quest to piece together their family history can be intriguing — if you actually give a damn about the celebrities. Steve Buscemi and Lionel Richie? OK. The wasted hour I spent with Vanessa Williams, on the other hand, is something I’ll never get back. (NBC, Fridays, 8 pm)