“Homeland Security USA”
ABC, Tuesdays at 8 p.m.
1.5 out of 5 Stars
It’s hard to say which is more worrying: what the quality of “Homeland Security USA” says about the future of documentary television or what the content of “Homeland Security USA” says about the future of our nation’s safety.
The show depicts different subsections of the Department of Homeland Security in action, showing just how the American government takes down the bad guys and protects its citizens from everything from cocaine to illegal immigrants to imported bat meat. But this is a look at homeland security that may be more worrying than it is enlightening.
It’s not that the border patrol officers, customs officers, TSA officers and other homeland security officials do a particularly bad job on the show (if they do, it wisely isn’t being shown on national television). It just seems like these officers don’t have their priorities straight; they often seem eager for smugglers and potential terrorists to try to enter the country, simply because it would make their jobs more fun. But even when border security officers are having the time of their lives lifting pound after pound of cocaine out of a spare tire, it still makes for boring television.
In fact, the few moments that were legitimately worth watching were those when homeland security was shed in a humorous light. In one instance, a rather attractive Swiss woman with belly-dancing aspirations and no working visa simply can’t stand the detention center, calling it “too ugly for me” with a look of pure disdain. Another incident involves a bratty teen who can’t believe his newly bought tobacco pipes are being confiscated at the border, actually saying to the officers, “(I) should’ve stuffed them in my pants.”
That’s not to say it’s a good idea to go out and sass your local customs officer, but it’s pretty entertaining for television’s sake. Of course, when the competitors for most exciting event in the show range from officers screening packages for contraband meat products to random citizens complaining about airport security, the “highlights” don’t have to be particularly thrilling.
One thing the show does that’s intelligent and commendable is spend almost equal time covering the Canadian and Mexican borders. This helps counter the misconception that the United States is purely focused on our neighbor to the south. But the show sometimes gets redundant when the same type of incident is shown on both borders. And that’s the show’s main flaw: There’s just not enough variety among the segments. There are too many drug busts and human smuggling incidents, each less exciting than the last. In the entire hour-long episode, only three or so different types of security threats are represented.
With these rather routine busts, the show tries to jazz things up with cliffhangers. But after officers’ investigations, x-rays and drug-sniffing dogs have all indicated that there are probably drugs in a tire, it’s more than a little ridiculous for the voice-over to say, “What’s inside the spare tire? Officers are about to find out.” In case any of you are shaking with anticipation about what really was in the tire, it was drugs. Shocking, I know.
“Homeland Security USA” doesn’t show anything the American public didn’t already know about customs officers, the TSA and the other branches of the Department of Homeland Security. While it wisely shies away from being pure propaganda, the show still feels like a failed attempt to glorify border and customs security and make people less annoyed when their travel plans get interrupted for a security screening. With no real insight, action or suspense, the only entertainment “Homeland Security” provides is some accidental comic relief. But the phrase “My God, we have human skulls here” is apparently coming up later this season, so that could be worth checking out.