BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. — Usually a TV show's genre is a pretty fixed thing. Yes, there are "dramedies," but in general, programs are intended to be dramas or comedies.
But National Geographic Channel's "Doomsday Preppers" (9 and 10 p.m. Tuesday) will be received either as a comedy or drama depending on the person watching.
For viewers with an addiction to fear-mongering, "Doomsday Preppers" will no doubt be serious drama. For others, it's clearly a comedy that expects viewers to laugh at those featured in the show. Sometimes their loved ones even express doubts about the preppers' obsessions.
Returning for its second season this week, each episode of "Doomsday Preppers" profiles three people (or families) preparing for an apocalypse of one sort of another. In Tuesday's first of two episodes, "Am I Nuts Or Are You?," viewers meet folks who are preparing for smallpox, a nuclear attack from Russia and anarchy following an economic collapse.
The Southwick family of suburban Salt Lake City goes along with father Braxton's contingency plans in case of a smallpox outbreak, but wife Kara admits, "I don't know if I believe in doomsday or not. Braxton tends to be very OCD in that he gets one idea in his head and that's his project for the next three years."
A country-music producer identified as Big Al doesn't appear to have any family -- or at least any family that's willing to go on camera with him -- when he takes the "Preppers" cameras with him to an underground bunker where he attempts to spend three months each year. He says it's an effort to prepare him for a Russian nuclear attack that would wipe out cities.
At the end of each segment, preppers are rated on their preparedness by Practical Preppers consultants, but the scores given aren't explained in any meaningful way and the grades seem to be somewhat arbitrary.
Perhaps the scariest prepper featured in the season premiere is 15-year-old Jason Beacham of Plato, Mo., who almost burns down an abandoned building while doing a test prepping session with friends.
"Jason has always been a worrywart," his mother says. "He's always been concerned about things a typical child wouldn't seem to be concerned with."
After a scene that shows Jason practicing target-shooting with his grandfather's handgun, his mother admits she wonders if her son should have so many weapons, including a "maceball bat" -- a baseball bat Jason turned into a sort of mace.
"Seriously, I just want to be a normal mom," she says. "Normal moms don't have maceball bats."
It's comments like these that prove "Doomsday Preppers" doesn't take its stars' concerns seriously. Adding to the show's skepticism is a fact check at the end of each segment that tends to debunk the fears of the preppers just featured. The show's narrator tells viewers that the U.S. and Russia are working toward a policy of nuclear disarmament; few economists believe a total economic collapse is likely; there are only two known samples of smallpox remaining -- in American and Russian labs -- and there's enough vaccine available in the event of an outbreak.
Of course, only the most extreme preppers will make the cut for the TV show. It is about entertainment, after all. But a producer and the Southwicks appeared at an August National Geographic Channel press conference and made the case for more general preparedness that won't land anyone on a TV show and sounds more reasonable.
"If you've ever put (bottled) water in your basement, if you ever saved $1,000 in your checking account for a rainy day, that's a form of prepping," said Matt Sharp, executive producer of "Doomsday Preppers." ''They're obviously taking that to the next level."
Braxton Southwick said it's always wise to have an emergency plan.
"We all live in an area where there's natural disasters," he noted.
David Kobler, co-owner and co-founder of Practical Preppers, said he received an email from a prepper mom who'd stored a one-year supply of food that came in handy when her husband got laid off from his job.
"It doesn't have to be the end of the world," Kobler said, "and that's proof positive that prepping is paying off in that family's life."
But it seems like it would be easy to go too far, as "Doomsday Preppers" suggests in some of its segments.
"If your prepping interferes or hurts the people you love, then you need to stop," Kobler said. "If you can do it without hurting the people you love, then you're probably not overboard."
Follow TV writer Rob Owen on Twitter or Facebook under RobOwenTV. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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