As reality programming goes, “Intervention” remains admirably free of the genre’s plot-advancing gimmicks, save one: Once they are confronted by their families and friends — the intervention of the title, facilitated by one of the show’s trained counselors — the addicts are offered three-month stays at some of the country’s best rehab centers. Such treatments can easily run to six-figure tabs, which means that appearing on “Intervention” is the one stroke of good luck that most of its subjects have ever encountered. “Will you accept the gift being offered you today?” their family members beg in tearfully composed letters read aloud. Some still do refuse the help, or accept it only to suffer relapse in due time. The show’s epilogues are often iffy at best, in the grand tradition of living one day at a time.
I remain hopelessly addicted to “Intervention,” which is surprising, given how the stories all tend to run the same course. Years have passed and yet some of “Intervention’s” addicts still remain fresh in my memory, as if I met them personally.
There are so many kinds of reality TV vying to suck what’s left of our brains from our skulls. On one end of the spectrum waits the greasy array of celebrity-centered melodrama. In the middle are a whole lot of people who’ve commodified their fringy occupations and lifestyles (wild boar hunters, extreme couponers, polygamists, tattoodlers) into passable television.
That leaves, on the more rare and documentary-minded end, shows like “Intervention” and its far more disturbing cousin, “Hoarders” (also returning to A&E Monday night), which specialize in empathetic TV for empathetic watchers. It is difficult to know where our caring stops and our sense of voyeurism begins. At the end of an episode, you have sponged up a lot of someone else’s grief and travails with no real payoff for yourself, other than the irresistible chance to have eavesdropped on another family’s nightmare.
“Intervention” fans have by now seen it all, including episodes that featured addicts who chose homelessness over rehab. In some cases, the subject’s unwillingness to accept help led to death. In all, there have been 214 interventions depicted on the show; of those, A&E claims 162 of the subjects remain sober thus far.