Tuesdays, 10 p.m.
Not much is funny about peace, love and understanding. But as Morgan Spurlock continues to show us with his series “30 Days,” those things do make for compelling television.
In “30 Days,” which returns for a third season of six episodes, Spurlock lets someone walk a mile in someone else's shoes for a month. This year, the filmmaker himself works in a coal mine and lives on an Indian reservation to see what those lives are like. Also, a hunter lives with animal-rights activists, a former professional football player spends 30 days in a wheelchair, a woman who opposes same-sex marriage lives with a male couple and their children, and a gun-control advocate takes up residence with some hunters.
It's endlessly fascinating. Spurlock takes us places we're never likely to go — like inside a coal mine — and inside the thought processes of people we might never otherwise meet. He's generally even-handed (though the meat industry should have been given time to respond to the vegans in the third episode) and always thought-provoking.
But wait, there's more. You actually learn a fair amount, whether it’s about what coal miners do or how people in wheelchairs deal or why vegans don’t enjoy a tasty burger. Spurlock, who's the full-time narrator as well as occasional participant, does a superb job breaking down sometimes complex subject matter into understandable language.
The coal episode is particularly strong because it shows a vicious circle in action. You have the miners risking their lives and health for fairly substantial paychecks ($60,000 a year or more), their families fearing for their safety while hoping for something better for the next generation and the coal industry pillaging the land while also providing us with the energy we absolutely need. As an added bonus, you get Spurlock engaging in strenuous physical labor a mile and a half into the earth.
In this rare glimpse inside a mine, we watch a machine rip coals from the walls and dump it on a conveyor belt. Spurlock's job: use a shovel to pick up everything the machine drops.
“I’d like to think that what I’m shoveling here is powering the electricity in a children’s hospital," he quips. "But in reality, what I’m shoveling here is probably powering some guy masturbating in front of his computer. … Either way, I’m making somebody very happy.”
In the wheelchair episode, former pro football player Ray Crockett volunteers to relegate himself to the life of a paraplegic. All of a sudden, this healthy, active man must figure out how to maneuver around his own home. In the course of a month, he learns what it's like to always be looking up at people and how costly it can be to have your home and car retrofitted.
But more importantly, he comes to understand people in wheelchairs and appreciate their will to live. It's a touching and lovely hour.
The same is true of the animal-rights episode, where a North Carolina hunter named George Snedeker winds up modifying his views after living with a vegan family and working at an animal sanctuary. He starts the hour with the attitude "save the world if you want, but stay off my dining room table" and ends it by bonding with a calf that's spent its life inside a 2-by-4 crate.
Everyone who participates in the “30 Days” experiments comes away changed. Part of that is Stockholm syndrome, certainly, but there's a genuine lesson here: If we took the time to really understand each other, we'd be far less dogmatic — and far better off.