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God or Mini Golf?

CBS’s Kid Nation is fast becoming my new favorite TV show. This surprising and delightful reality series challenges a group of 40 kids to carve out a functioning society in the New Mexico desert. The latest episode dealt with the contentious subject of religion. Like many of the issues the children deal with on Kid Nation, the subject of “going to service” was imposed upon them by the show’s producers in the form of the town journal. Each week a new chapter is read by the ruling council and they must decide if they will take the journal’s entry to heart and effect change in Bonanza City, or ignore the lessons it attempts to teach.

After reading the entry about Sunday service, the council decides to create a “catch-all” gathering for the entire town in which everyone’s religion will be represented. But when the council rings the meeting bell, no one comes running. It seems on the outset, these kids don’t love God. They are both lawless AND Godless! Oh ye of little faith. Later that evening, Morgan decides to get an impromptu prayer group together, and low and behold, many of the kids attend. As the children huddle around a burning oil barrel, prayers from various religions are shared. Some of the kids are even moved to tears by the words of their friends. Instead of religion being enforced, God is shared spontaneously, and that’s what I love most about Kid Nation – it’s never what you expect.

Given a choice between an 18 hole mini golf course, or a collection of holy books, the kids choose the books. When tensions run high in a town meeting, it’s the voice of 9 year old Alex that makes the most sense. Sophia calmly states in an interview that religion is one of the leading reasons people kill each other around the world. And some kids disturbingly emulate their parents by “drowning their sorrows” with shots of root beer in the town Saloon. No matter what pops up from week to week on this contrived, sometimes awkward TV series, through it all, the kids shine through. They constantly rise above the fake settings and the Survivor-like challenges to single-handedly put the “reality” back in reality TV, and I’m loving every minute of it.

When the hero of last week’s sheep herding challenge, Cody, decided to leave, his heartfelt goodbye really got me. Who among us hasn’t had to say goodbye to a close friend or lend moral support when a buddy is down? Kid Nation lets us re-connect with our childhood while giving us glimpses into how today’s parents are raising their kids. Michael, Zach and Anjay’s parents are doing something right because they all deserve a gold star.

The preview for next week’s episode looks great too, as the kids will have to hold an election for a new ruling council. Politics and kids usually don’t mix well, but something tells me this will be different. It’s a shame that Kid Nation got such a bad rap in the weeks leading up to its premiere. While some aspects of the show are less than perfect, on the whole, it enlightens and satisfies. Just the right blend of humor – “I got a bogey!” and insight – “Yuck stuff.” to make Kid Nation one great hour of television. Check it out.

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