Film and TV

Reality Bites: Living Alaska

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

Alaska, not space, is the final (okay, last) frontier. But don't take it from me, that's both the state's official motto as well as the corporate stance of Home and Garden Television (HGTV), which certainly has no vested interest in encouraging residential growth in one of the least developed viewing areas in the country. Oh my, no.

A show based on the idea of moving to Alaska sounds like it would offer some interesting and unique challenges (provided you do a little better prep work than Chris McCandless, that is). Alas, Living Alaska seizes little opportunity to showcase the Land of the Midnight Sun's singular charms, settling instead for the same tired yet lucrative formula that fuels 75 percent of HGTV's existing programming.

The Episode I Watched began with praise given to Alaska's "different" value system, which can be interpreted in a few ways. Here, they're talking about the triumph of the creative spirit. Alaska's where you go when you want to make your mark, assuming you don't mind making it in four feet of snow.

Still, compelling words for residents who aren't exactly thrilled that these people are the state's most famous representatives.

"In Alaska you can go sledding all the time." So says Daniel Craddock, who sounds like he's desperately trying to convince himself to go along with wife Shallon's years-long strategy to convince him to move back to her home state. Shallon grew up in Alaska before moving to Pittsburgh. Having since completed her pediatric residency, she is putting the pressure on to move their family away from "the hectic city life."

Of Pittsburgh. The 62nd largest city in the country. Okay.

Unfortunately, once you shake the snow out of your underpants (sledding all the time really isn't all it's cracked up to be), it becomes apparent early on that this Living Alaska is little more than House Hunters: Denali.

Don't get me wrong; as long-term real estate investments go, Alaska may very well be one of the few temperate zones left once global temperatures rise and most of the lower 48 are turned into a blasted hellscape.

But for now, having to engage four-wheel drive in order to navigate the driveway to the first house is obviously a new experience for the Craddocks. The house is 3800 square feet (that's good!), but the interior is straight out of 1977 (that's bad!). There's a great view of Mt. McKinley (that's good!), but it looks like they'd have to completely strip the carpets, repaint, and replace all the fixtures/appliances. That's bad, especially when you're already straining the budget.

Up next is the "off the grid" house, for those of you who take that zombie apocalypse thing seriously. In addition to solar panels, a generator, and a water tank, there's a complete lack of access to emergency services (the real estate agent's advice, no shit: "*You're* a doctor"). The front door is also "frozen in the winter." So, nine months out of the year. If that wasn't enough, the house's second bathroom is an outhouse (with a view of Mt. McKinley), and there's a separate sauna building that contains a basketball sized hornet's nest. That's a bit much, even for a unique fixer-upper opportunity.

In order to break up the monotony of the HGTV programming template, the Craddocks try various Alaska sports, such as dog mushing and "skijoring," which also involves dogs. Alaskans have evidently solved our nation's energy woes by using man's best friend instead of the automobile to haul their lazy asses around.

Finally it's time for the last house, which is remarkable only for being nondescript and hemmed in by neighbors, which is hardly something you need to move to a housing market 4,000 miles away to find. Unsurprisingly (and disappointingly) this is the one the Craddocks eventually settle on. For all her yammering about enjoying a real Alaska experience, it appears Shallon has traded one dull suburban existence for another, albeit one with a higher likelihood of death by hypothermia and/or bear attack.

That's ... good?