Dyspeptic NYT Critic Faults PBS Documentary on Constitution for Wasting Gas, Noisy Motorcycles

May 7th, 2013 1:24 PM

On your bike! New York Times's roaming critic Neil Genzlinger reviewed Constitution USA with Peter Sagal, airing Tuesday night on PBS. Judging by the headline, "The Philosophical Rumble Of That Living Document," Genzlinger's editor didn't know what to do with his puzzling, cranky review of the documentary (starring Sagal, liberal host of the NPR game show Wait Wait ... Don’t Tell Me!).

Someone else can write the dissertation on how Peter Fonda and Jack Kerouac and asphalt came to be equated with our founding principles. And when did Mr. Sagal’s vehicle of choice, a motorcycle, morph into a symbol of freedom, when anyone who has ever been awakened by one late at night wishes the Bill of Rights had something in it about freedom from noise pollution?

Anyway, what’s irksome about the format is that it has become so common that it just feels like an excuse for the host to do some traveling in a way that unnecessarily burns fossil fuel. If you’re making a travel show, sure, get in or on some eye-catching vehicle and drive across America. If you’re making a show about current constitutional debates, just read a newspaper. If you need to go someplace where such a debate has occurred, take public transportation.

Some of Mr. Sagal’s initial stops also feel like pandering. He begins with an excursion to Northern California to talk about the clash between federal and state marijuana laws. Never mind the legalization of pot; can we have a law mandating jail time for any journalist or PBS host who is still doing segments on marijuana by reporting from a room full of weed with a see-how-naughty-I-am tone?