Reality Bites: Border Wars

There are a million reality shows on the naked television. We're going to watch them all, one at a time.

America's love of cop shows dates back to the Eisenhower Adminstration. Since the boob tube took up residence in our homes, we've been enamored with the boys in blue and the way they put their lives on the line to protect and serve.

Simple admiration without oversight was sufficient for audiences all the way into the 1980s, when realities of economics and crime forced networks to take a grittier stance with regards to its police programming. Now, instead of repetitive crime-solving formulas, Fox (COPS) and the like could put these "men and women of law enforcement" in your living room as they were chasing down a suspect or Tasering a homeless man (although that last one doesn't usually make final cut). Fictional network programs moved their focus to the "procedural," where cops mostly play a supporting role.

But it's in reality programming where police shows still thrive, often with a humorous slant (World's Wildest Police Videos). This isn't the case with Border Patrol, which definitely wants you to feel the tension involved in living on the U.S.-Mexico border, where you could LITERALLY DIE AT ANY MOMENT.

There's so much shouting on this show. Don't those Border Patrol guys know you catch more flies with honey than vinegar? My grandmother probably would've been a lousy interdiction agent.

The opening credits are shot like one of those tabloid crime shows, which makes sense. The entire show looks like it was directed by Natural Born Killers era Oliver Stone. And I'm pretty sure it's narrated by the guy who does the Wolf Brand Chili commercials.

Never mind, his name is Bill Graves, who may or may not be an ex-cop or the former Governor of Kansas. Whatever, I'll be he makes a mean bowl of chili.

The show travels the length of the nearly 2,000-mile border, but I chose "Traffic," because it focused on South Texas, and because the movie was pretty cool. Each episode follows the same format: a handful of vignettes broken up by quick night vision shots of people running through brush and glamor shots of impounded drugs. One such agent, Gilbert Ramirez, tracks illegals through some brushlands north of the border. They could probably spend the entire hour on that, but endless footage of dehydrated illegals being from marches back to poverty seems somehow ... demoralizing.

In Mission, Texas, Cpl Manuel Casas and Officer Chris Piland share amusing anecdotes about friends in San Antonio and Houston speaking admiringly of their daring drug seizures. And even standing around waiting to raid a house is lent an aura of intensity by the gritty, Lethal Weapon-ish music.

The best/worst part of the raid is when they tell the woman who answers the door they "need permission to enter the house." Say what? They got a tip about 2,000 pounds of weed and didn't bother getting a warrant? How hard can it be in a border town? What would Judge Roy Bean say?

Of course there are drugs. And after the agents seize them, they're worried about getting hijacked as they drive the contraband across town. I'm no big city law enforcement analyst, but maybe you should pile a hundred bundles of weed in something more secure than an open pickup truck.

A neighbor laments the recent rise in crime and violence in their community: "We're the United States, we're not in Mexico." Cut to shot of tattered American flag. All the scene needed to finish it off was Iron Eyes Cody.

Marine Interdiction Agents also attempt to stem the flow of drugs coming across the Rio Grande. I like how one of the agents is named "Ranger," just like Lone Wolf McQuade! This show could definitely use more circle kicks.

Finally, Agent Renee Tuinstra concentrates on the human trafficking element. She's a diligent foe of smugglers, though her incredulity at smugglers "valuing money over human life" seems a trifle naive. That seems like something you'd learn in Border Patrol 101. She leads a joint task force on a raid of a local house and in the ensuing chase, one of the suspects is almost caught by the dude filming the scene. I'll bet you get some serious shit from your fellow inmates if you get run down by the camera guy.

The suspects' excuses are just as lame as anybody else's, of course: "I just came from my grandma's house." This is almost as good as, "I can't go to jail, I'm pregnant" (women have it so easy in this country).

Proximity aside, there's little to distinguish Border Wars from others of its ilk. Doors are kicked in, suspects are thrown in the backs of cars, and large quantities of dangerous marijuana are seized. A more interesting question for me is, why is this stuff on the National Geographic Channel?

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