‘Tis the season for turning down the lights and curling up on my sofa with a hot cup of tea…and then spilling it all over my pajamas as I literally wring my hands over a new episode of Intervention on A&E. (The dramatic documentary series premiered its fourth season on Monday with the story of Emily, an anorexic identical twin with bizarre eating and workout rituals, whose sisters beg her to try treatment for the third time).
If you’ve never tuned in, let me warn you: entertaining is not exactly the word for this show. But just try to look away as cameras follow Sylvia, the formerly well-to-do interior designer with the Southern accent of a debutante who ducks into her car to chug miniature (easier to hide) bottles of booze; or Jessica, the addict who binges on heroin as soon as she wakes up; or Leslie, the onetime mother-of-the-year type in Tulsa who guzzles gallons of store brand mouthwash (“this…helps me… get drunk”) despite her kids’ and ex-husbands’ efforts to keep her sober for a court date.
If you’ve seen episodes past, you know that the set-up (some argue that it literally is a set-up), as explained to viewers, is that the subjects have agreed to be in a filmed project about addiction, but don’t know that an intervention and rehab offer is coming. The show’s formula plays out with unflinching footage of the addict’s shockingly self-destructive habits and loved ones describing their feelings of helplessness, before an “intervention specialist” moderates the tense meeting where the addict is always given an ultimatum: agree to enter treatment today, or else (and here the relatives pledge immediate consequences). Is this exploitative? Probably. Is it riveting? Absolutely. The show starts, and I can barely blink or budge till it ends (and it always ends with a brief, frequently gasp-inducing followup narrative to let us know whether the addict recovered or relapsed).
Why I’m so compelled to watch people this troubled hit bottom—and I don’t mean celebrities hooked on substances and hair extensions and teasing the paparazzi, I mean regular people who make regular incomes (or at least it seems they had regular incomes until booze or smack or barfing or coke took over)—is a mystery to me. I only know that Intervention is very, very addictive. If any Popwatchers out there have seen the show, would you agree?