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'Relapse' premiere review: Alcoholic-not-Anonymous, and a selfish meth-head

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Hoping to cash in on the ratings success that was Intervention, A&E brought us Relapse, a new series on Monday night. It followed two chronic users: David, a firefighter in the throes of alcoholism, and Brooke, addicted to crystal meth.

These sad people were each counseled by a “sober coach”: Seth Jaffe tried to calm down David as he punched holes in the walls of his home in a drunken rage, while Patty Powers urged Brooke to “really listen” as her estranged father told the young woman he’d “always” love her.

Of the two patients, Brooke tried my patience, with her selfish desire to spend her birthday high and then giving the Relapse crew some good footage of her self-pitying sobs as she called one old friend after another from a bar and no one would agree to join her for her “celebration.” Yes, yes, addiction is dreadful; but it’s good that one aspect of a show such as Relapse is to show how not just a stranger like me but also an anguished father can find Brooke’s behavior not tolerable. As the coaches always say, you can’t recover until you’re ready to do so.

In the meantime, however, David made for the more interesting  object of scrutiny. The guy had been, by all accounts, an excellent firefighter, a married man with two kids whom he adores. Yet there he was, drinking during his first interview with “coach” Seth, and by the end of the chat was bellowing for the Relapse crew to get out of his house. (“I’m hidin’ from you guys!” he yells, which seems like a logical response from someone who’s not yet hit bottom nor is willing to make a change.)

David says one reason he drinks is because of the pressure he’s under, and I’d love to know more details than we’re told about the fact that his “mortgage is in default and credit cards have gone into collection.” I’m not suggesting that the economy and the possibility of a bad mortgage deal excuse heavy drinking, but Relapse could use more context for the sources of its subjects’ pain.

A bigger problem for this new series is that it doesn’t emphasize the effects of its title on people. Spending a half hour with each “patient,” it’s difficult to see the pattern of relapsing that would distinguish the show from Intervention. In both cases this evening, the coaches intervened and got their subjects to enroll in 90-day rehab programs.

But what’s to say David and/or Brooke won’t relapse again? (We’re told Brooke has been in and out of rehabs numerous times — what makes this one different, other than the fact that the lead-up to it was filmed by Relapse?) The series would be more interesting if it profiled one person for an hour, from footage edited down from a longer period of time spent filming their recoveries. That way we might witness the real, hard work that both the patient and their sponsors do with them, and whether they relapsed yet again.

The “coaches” here talk a good game, but that’s all they do — talk, alternately comfortingly or tough — and then hand the poor souls over to someone else to deal with.

Did you watch Relapse? Would you watch it again?

Twitter: @kentucker