Is Sarah Palin's Alaska a political statement? Come on! It's just a little reality show. A little reality show about the former vice-presidential candidate raising her family and shooting guns and celebrating "hardworking Alaskans" and encountering fierce mama bears and exploring the rugged wonders and boundless adventure of the largest state in this, the greatest country on earth! Who could possibly see that as a political statement?
It is not exactly going out on a limb to say that a TV show involving Palin will polarize people. But there's another division that Sarah Palin's Alaska (debuting Nov. 14 on TLC) will create: between those who believe the show proves that Palin will never run for President and those who believe it proves she is totally going to run for President.
There is evidence for both sides. Palin has an intense following and great influence, demonstrated by the 61 candidates she endorsed in the Nov. 2 elections. But she has low general-approval ratings. She's ambitious and sees Ronald Reagan as her role model. But she didn't even finish one term as Alaska's governor. She recently told Entertainment Tonight that she might consider running in 2012. But she said it on Entertainment Tonight.
If Palin's only goal is to be a media force, she's doing fine. She has made millions off her 2009 book, Going Rogue; has a contract to appear as a commentator on Fox News; and has the press hanging on her every Facebook update and tweet. Even daughter Bristol has dipped a toe in, as a contestant on Dancing with the Stars.
But if Palin does have plans for 2012, one could well see this show, which often plays as if Reagan admaker Hal "Morning in America" Riney had gone into reality TV, as an attempt to broaden her appeal. If Palin's red-meat Fox News commentary is the sort of media you do to position yourself for a primary, then Sarah Palin's Alaska, full of folksy moments and free-range metaphors, is a general-election play.
A TLC website for the show SPAlaska.com promotes it as "an insider's look at Alaska" that "is lots of things ... but it is not a political show." But there is a reason that Sarah Palin comes before Alaska in the title, and the show addresses her notoriety and career head-on. (Overlooking a scenic view, she jokes, "You can see Russia from here almost.") Like any other busy working mom, she wrangles the kids, is glued to her BlackBerry and every now and then goes to her custom-built satellite studio to do a remote hit on The O'Reilly Factor.
And as in a family sitcom, there's a zany conflict with a neighbor: author Joe McGinniss, who raised a controversy earlier this year when he rented the house next door to the Palins while researching a book on her. He's not seen (or identified by name) in the first episode, but his presence is much discussed. "How would you feel," Palin asks, "if some dude who was out to get ya moved in 15 feet away from your kids?" (Note the wording: not "you," "your kids.") When the family returns home from a fishing trip, Palin asks, "Is he taking pictures?" a concern that may be more sympathetic if you forget that this intimate moment is being captured by a team of reality-TV cameras.