On the surface, TLC's "Extreme Couponing" -- premiering tonight at 9:30 p.m. EDT -- may look to you and me like an innocently voyeuristic look into the lives of fellow Americans who take penny-pinching to the extreme, saving at times hundreds of dollars on grocery store runs.
But that's why we're not TV critics for a liberal metropolitan newspaper.
Washington Post's Hank Stuever worked in a healthy share of left-wing grousing about capitalism and insisted that the coupon-clippers highlighted by the program were insufferably selfish souls.
"Little piggies go to market, and clean up on Aisle 5," the article's online headline snarked.
"Repulsion may or may not be the show’s ultimate intent, but it stirs up unsettling and complex thoughts, not only about the sins of gluttony and pride, but also about the production and consumption of cheap, processed food," Stuever insisted. "There’s also something to snack on for those of us fretting over an ever-widening wealth gap amid dwindling resources."
But who are these gluttonous people? Some of them are moms of large families:
Each segment of “Extreme Couponing” culminates in a dazzling and literal money shot. Voila! A mother of seven in Spring, Tex., uses her coupons to reduce a bill of $555 to $6.
How, exactly, is it gluttonous to provide for a large family in a way that saves a boatload of money?
Stuever never squares that with his central thesis that so-called extreme couponers are incredibly selfish individuals:
[M]y real beef, which I’m selling for half-off today, is that the subjects of “Extreme Couponing” are never seen stopping at a food bank on the way home to share some of their largess — except once, in the original “Extreme Couponing” special.
Everyone else on the show selfishly stores it away in hyper-organized garages, basements and spare closets — where all the labels must face a certain way, ordered by expiration date, before Mommy can sit down, relax, and clip and file still more coupons. “In a zombie apocalypse, we’d be fine for two years,” chuckles the overweight boyfriend of an extreme couponer in St. Louis, after he counts up 50 bags of snack chips.
When asked about this, a TLC publicist said future episodes might try to leaven the show with charitable impulses. The Texas mother of seven, the publicist noted, recently organized a shipment of care packages to Japan’s earthquake disaster victims.
Care packages of what? (Febreze? Apple Jacks?) The last thing “Extreme Couponing” exhibits is a sense of caring — to say nothing of sharing.
Perhaps what really bothers Stuever is the self-reliance and pluck of these enterprising individuals, who choose to use the free market capitalist system to the benefit of themselves and their families rather than sit around and carp about how much America sucks.
Update: TLC promotional video added below to give you a flavor for what the show is about and who exactly tees Stuever off.