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 V.16 No.20 | May 17 - 23, 2007 

Idiot Box

Gross National Product

“Dirty Jobs” on Discovery Channel

Given my assorted weekly drama addictions (“Heroes,” “Lost,” “The Riches,” everything HBO shows on Sunday nights, every other season of “24”), I’m often grateful for a show that requires no commitment from me, the viewer. My head is crammed full of assorted “mythologies,” and I just can’t add another plot-heavy, conspiracy-filled show to the mix. Season finales are here en masse and I’m already getting mixed up: Is Mr. Linderman head of the Dharma Initiative?

Don’t get me wrong: I love these shows. But sometimes you just need to chill out with a nice, light show requiring no effort of concentration on your part—which is one of the reasons I’ve grown increasingly grateful for “Dirty Jobs” on the Discovery Channel.

“Dirty Jobs” is actually a spin-off of a segment host Mike Rowe once did for a local San Francisco program called “Somebody’s Gotta Do It.” The basic idea is simple: Each week, our everyman host tries out a different collection of blue-collar jobs. These jobs are united by the fact that they are strange, difficult or—as the title implies—extremely messy. Now, crummy jobs are not exactly in short supply here in corporate America. But the appeal of “Dirty Jobs” is that it never treats these careers as low or demeaning. In fact, it’s positively fascinated by them.

Rowe, who pops up now in Ford truck commercials and narrates assorted other Discovery Channel series such as “American Chopper” and “Deadliest Catch,” seems like an incredibly easy-going guy. He’s the sort of genial, jeans-wearing dude you’d be happy to chug a beer with after work. (Hard to believe, but the guy used to be a baritone with the Baltimore Opera.) No matter what profession he’s saddled with—from sewer inspector to septic tank cleaner to bat guano collector—Rowe takes it in stride. Through it all, he keeps his sense of humor and his never-say-die attitude up.

OK, so the segment in which Rowe and his camera crew were terrorized by blood-crazed simians on a monkey rehabilitation farm in Africa did seem to test the host’s patience. Still, the show never condescends to its subjects. Week in and week out, we are introduced to hardworking Americans who really seem to love their jobs. It’s nice to know that there are rewards to be found even in the most mundane of tasks. Slopping through New England mudflats digging up buckets full of bloodworms doesn’t seem all that much fun, but it bought two houses for one full-timer.

Gassing cockroaches or shoveling up roadkill may not be a picnic or anything, but most of us are mighty glad there are people out there willing to perform such valuable tasks. Kudos to Rowe and crew for introducing us to the faces behind the gas masks, bandannas and industrial-strength rubber gloves.

“Dirty Jobs” airs every Tuesday at 7 p.m. on Discovery Channel.


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