Last night's finale of the first season of CBS' "grand social experiment" contained few surprises (and the "heart-wrenching" surprise we were promised turned out to be a parent-child reunion, which was hardly "heart-wrenching!"). Did the pioneers achieve their goal of "creating a society better than adults"? Of course not, but that was never really the point. The most surprising thing about Kid Nation is the fact that it took this long for someone to make a prime-time reality show starring children.
Forgive us for being obvious here, but there's just something about kids that makes you love them despite their faults. Anyone who's seen Michael Apted's Up series, documentaries following the same English children every seven years throughout their lives, will find their attachment to the Kid Nation kids familiar. Yes, most reality shows are exploitative and horrible and gross, but Kid Nation was an exception. Sure, it appealed to the lowest common denominator, but in this case the lowest common denominator was, we don't know … joy? Sweetness? Hope? Kid Nation was the Cute Overload of TV.
It was, of course, edited to show the kids at either their worst (sometimes) or their best (most of the time). Mostly left out were the typical moments of casual cruelty; in last night's episode, when a group of mean girls shunned Emilie from their slumber party, it was initially shocking before it became clear that this kind of thing had been going on the entire time. Instead, though, we saw Michael's soaring speeches, Laurel's single-minded selflessness, and Sophia's brilliance. (Nobody was ever really sure about Greg.)
In this episode, the tears came when the kids were told they had special visitors and their parents came running over a hill for a dramatic reunion. (We got to see Taylor's mom! And Jared's dad!) The love-in continued when the town council gave away three special $50k gold stars, to Kid Nation MVP Sophia (whose gold-star earnings now total $70k), mother-figure Morgan, and popular girl Migle. If we may be allowed one moment of snark in this otherwise mushy recap: Migle totally got a gold star for having breasts! Laurel was robbed!
The show ended the way every summer camp session ends: with tears, hugs, I-love-yous, and promises to visit or write. But what about the viewers? We want to know what happens to our favorite kids! Luckily (or not), almost all of the children now have IMDb profiles with their full names, so presumably we haven't seen the last of them. But can we make a suggestion? The makers of Kid Nation already know about the show's similarities to the Up series (they even take out paid advertisements on the Up series as a Google search term), so maybe this is already in the works, but we think America wants to see these kids all together again. Like, every year. In a Christmas special. Make it happen, CBS!
In the end, we never saw anyone drink bleach, and even Taylor got her share of well wishes and good-bye hugs. The kids didn't build a society better than adults, but they succeeded in giving a lot of cynical TV watchers hope that the next generation might do a better job running the world than we have. And Kid Nation proved that a reality show can be uplifting and funny at the same time, and heartwarming even when it doesn't involve giving away a house. —Lindsay Robertson