HBO unleashes its Vice squad | Small Screen | Chicago Reader

HBO unleashes its Vice squad 

Vice on HBO is news for a generation with a steel belly and a short attention span.

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Vice on HBO

Vice on HBO

There's a K-8 Christian academy in Albuquerque that trains pupils what to do in the event that their school is attacked by an insane gunman with an automatic weapon. Certain older students are instructed to bombard, disarm, and pin down the hypothetical perpetrator. Some teachers carry guns—presumably they have the kids' backs.

During the opening of Vice's new half-hour newsmagazine on HBO, cofounder and CEO Shane Smith says his media empire set out to cover stories that "expose the absurdity of the modern condition."

The segment on New Life Baptist Academy is indeed absurd. Its subjects, the flat-topped former cop (and current preacher) Larry Allen and his petite, gun-toting wife, Lillie Allen (the school's principal), are militant and hyperdevout, if oddly cute and folksy. They really would have shone in an interview with The Daily Show's Samantha Bee or Jason Jones.

Instead we have Thomas Morton, a slouchy thirtysomething who channels Ira Glass. (I hate the term "hipster" because at this point it's used to describe anyone under the age of 40 who doesn't wear a tie, work in insurance, or listen to Train—but mostly I hate Vice for tempting me to use it here.) Ultimately, Morton succeeds in pointing out the absurdity of New Life without poking fun at it, which would have been fun but easy.

Smith hosts that episode's second segment, a decidedly less absurd story about birth defects in Iraqi children presumably caused by radioactive scrap left behind from the war. Vice's segments on subject matter like this are raw and more visually explicit than the nightly news could run, and a lot more concise than anything on a 24-hour network. Still, it feels like news for a generation with a steel belly and a short attention span. For the amount of effort and money that must go into reporting some of these stories—human trafficking in China, political rivalries in the Philippines—they tend to feel a little incomplete. Opinions have been formed in advance. It's not quite like being spoon-fed—more like a bloody breakfast in bed.

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