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New ABC reality series ‘Brat Camp’ voyeuristic and intrusive

Hal Boedeker The Orlando Sentinel

ABC has perfected the feel-good reality show with “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition.” But the network has gone another route with reality recently, with some disastrous results.

Brace yourself for feel-uneasy TV.

“Brat Camp,” debuting Wednesday (8 p.m., KXLY-4 in Spokane), tracks nine reckless teens whose desperate parents ship them off to a wilderness boot camp to shape up. The goal is laudable, but the program turns voyeuristic and intrusive.

“Welcome to the Neighborhood,” which had been scheduled to premiere last Sunday, pitted seven families of various races, classes and sexual orientations in a contest to win a lavish home in suburban Austin, Texas. Three clans living along the cul-de-sac evaluated the contestants and sent one family packing each week before picking the winner.

The result: sheer creepiness. ABC wised up and pulled the show amid complaints from everyone from the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation to the conservative Family Research Council.

There’s no contest among the participants on “Brat Camp.” The unruly teens have been sent off to SageWalk, The Wilderness School, in remote Oregon, to be broken of their destructive ways.

The situations are dramatic and shocking. The therapists react thoughtfully but firmly. The teens comport themselves before the camera with chilling ease. Socially awkward Frank and compulsive liar Jada are the dominant figures in this week’s two-hour premiere.

Yet “Brat Camp” operates on the questionable notion that intense, personal therapy can be adapted into entertainment for the masses. This programming for a summer night depends on confused, young lives that might be better off protected from a camera’s invasiveness.

The narration often sounds too optimistic for the dire situations. There’s a lot more at stake with “Brat Camp” than whether it succeeds in the ratings. It will take years to understand whether the children turned themselves around.

ABC likes to trumpet that its reality programs provide wish fulfillment. Yet you might wish that “Brat Camp,” like “Welcome to the Neighborhood,” hadn’t reached the air.

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