It’s often hard to believe the hijinks on “Small Town News: KPVM Pahrump” aren’t scenes from “Reno 911,” right down to the dusty Nevada aesthetic. HBO plucked a too-good-to-be-true news crew of misfits from obscurity and brought their exploits to the small screen, producing a docuseries with as much entertainment value as political relevance. It’s fun and wholesome.
For six episodes, “Small Town News” follows the tiny team at KPVM, a scrappy independent local TV station in Pahrump, Nev., just west of Las Vegas. By the end of the series, I wished it were twice as long.
The station’s Donald Trump-loving owner is a dimensional protagonist, ribbed for his bias but shown also to be impassioned and generous. You won’t believe the weatherman, and that’s all I’ll say about him. The team is less polished than their counterparts at the networks, but what they lack in glamor they make up for in heart. It’s utterly charming.
The journalists are both in and of the community they cover, showing every step of the way why the cliched death of local news involves a loss that platitudes can hardly capture. The local alien abductee? The station’s jack-of-all-trades anchor provides a wellness check herself. (She also tends to the station’s chickens.) The owner’s wife helps local attorneys write their jingles. The weatherman golfs with a realtor to secure ad dollars. Well-behaved dogs linger around the set while anchors deliver the nightly news.
At KPVM, political and cultural differences are salient but not obstructionist. They provide fodder for jokes and eye-rolls but don’t prevent the team from appreciating their respective differences. The dynamics are yet untouched by the poison our elites are peddling, insisting on partisan litmus tests that create irreconcilable differences where there should be conversations and kindness.
Remarkably, the series resisted the poison as well, capturing the team without the contrived and heavy-handed editorializing of most post-Trump expeditions into “Real America” produced by corporate media. It’s shockingly free of classism too.
The show is a nice reminder of how beautiful life can be without this poison. Of course, life is far from perfect at KPVM, where they struggle to stay on the air, retain talent, land key interviews, and expand into Vegas. Close quarters with a small team means walls get punched and doors get slammed. But it’s okay.
You don’t have to watch “Small Town News” for any deep cultural reasons. It’s great entertainment, pure and simple. The people are resilient, lovely, and dedicated to their craft, without any of the sanctimony of their less-skilled peers at “better” outlets. They’re not in line to win any Pulitzers, and they probably shouldn’t be, but they’re earnest and they get the job done. They’re very funny, intentionally and otherwise.
Yet the series is also an amazingly poignant illustration of local news’ value, and what we lose when our communities lose journalists. People lose a voice and an advocate, relying on the urban denizens of corporate platforms to extend any effort on their behalf, let alone journey with them through a community’s ups and downs. Robust local news outlets also used to provide a pipeline that took reporters from smaller communities to national outlets, where they brought with them empathy and understanding for people between the coasts and outside urban enclaves.
It’s not just a show about journalism, either. It’s a show about good people who make mistakes, just like everyone else.
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