By Louis Allred

I’ve said it before: the way to ensure fairness in a review of any creative piece is to check your feelings at the door about the actual person or people involved with it. If you want to judge something on its own merits, you should look only at the actual piece. However, as I’ve also said before, these matters often get complicated.

It’s no secret amongst my friends that I’m no fan of Sarah Palin. I don’t like her views on issues, I don’t like the gee-golly pseudo-folksiness she presents to the world, and I don’t like that she’s decided that the best way to help the public is to quit halfway through her first term as governor and ingratiate herself into the media machine. Fans of hers think she’s charming and quaint; I just find her annoying.

Now, none of this should have any bearing on her new show, “Sarah Palin’s Alaska.” As per the mission statement on its TLC page:

“In each episode, Sarah is joined by various family members as she shares the state she knows and loves – from salmon fishing in Bristol Bay to hiking along one of our country’s most breathtaking glaciers. Along with Alaska’s great wilderness, the Palins encounter Alaska’s fascinating residents and share what its takes to thrive in the country’s largest state.”

If the show actually followed this plan, then Sarah Palin herself shouldn’t matter. What is described seems akin to a Ken Burns look at Alaska. Salmon, mountains, forests, and so on. Here’s the problem: that’s not what you get. What you get is “Meet the Palins” more than anything, and that in itself isn’t a bad thing. Cable television is full of self-serving reality programs about the half-manufactured foibles of families, businesses, or other groups. We know what we’re getting into with them. But “Alaska” is presented on paper as some sort of celebration of the state’s beauty and majesty, and not the kooky misadventures of the Palins.

But then you remember that Sarah Palin’s name prefaces the state in the title, and what’s on screen makes a lot more sense. The premiere episode started with Sarah baking cupcakes with her youngest daughter, Piper, and her friend, Mackenzie. Sarah complains to the camera that Piper riles her up by calling her “Sarah” instead of “Mommy.” All of this, personal feelings about Palin aside, is standard-issue family reality-show fare. “The trials of being a working mother,” and such.

One question: what does any of that have to do with “Alaska’s great wilderness?”

Now, the show does venture out into the wild. The premiere had Sarah and Todd taking Piper and Mac out salmon fishing, where they encountered grizzly bears. And most of the family takes one of the biggest RVs I’ve ever seen to Denali National Park to rock-climb at Mt. McKinley. But sprinkled within all that are tangents about baking cupcakes, or Sarah doing Fox News remote feeds from her home studio (of course she has a home studio), or, most troubling, devoting time to calling out the writer who took the house next door to theirs while writing a book on them. I can see the ethical unease in moving next door to the subject of your next unauthorized book, but for a show supposedly dedicated to the splendor of the Alaskan wilderness, Palin making time for her “enemies list” is off-putting to say the least.

(And just in case you thought the show might be politics-free, Palin draws a comparison to the 14-foot tall fence they built to guard against the writer to what America should do about the border situation. So, yeah.)

I could grant “Alaska” all this if the wilderness segments were enjoyable in some sort of educational, nature-show way, but they’re just dull and self-serving. These aren’t segments about Alaska; they’re about the Palins mucking about in Alaska. We don’t learn all that much about grizzly bears, other than they’re territorial and furry. We don’t learn much about salmon either. We do learn a lot about how much the Palins love bears and salmon, though. When Sarah and Todd (who, based on how much Sarah gushes about him during the show, is some form of Nietzschean ubermensch, virile and strong and wise) climb Mt. McKinley, we see some beautiful footage, but the show is mostly concerned with how very difficult it is for Sarah to climb it. My wife nearly had an aneurysm bringing up the fact that, though she complained about a fear of heights during the climb, Sarah made at least three small-engine plane trips during the time span of the episode, each time reminding the audience that Alaska leads the country in small-engine plane casualties. And again, if this was a show dedicated to Alaska and its beauty, none of this should have been on the show. No one needs to see an entire segment where Sarah grunts and gripes and complains about heights.

And about that “Alaska’s fascinating residents” part: the only non-Palins you meet on the show (and briefly, at that) are Mackenzie, the plane pilot, the mountain guide, and daughter Willow’s male “friend.” The latter is in a bizarre segment where he visits the home, waits in the living room while Willow gets ready, or whatever, then sneaks upstairs, then comes back downstairs. And both mother and daughter wear hot pants. It’s baffling why this is included in a show ostensibly about Alaska as a state.

If this was the show originally pitched – a love letter to the truly beautiful wilderness of our 49th state – it might be fine. Even with her name on it, a more documentary-style program would at least be innocuous. She could even narrate the damn thing as long as she stayed on-topic. But let’s not kid anyone: this is not about Alaska. This is about the Palin family, and any attempt to claim otherwise is foolish and insulting. Complaining about your neighbor, jokes about Mom’s Blackberry, describing the perils of talking to Bill O’Reilly from your home TV studio – these have nothing to do with the pageantry of Alaska’s wildlife; just the pageantry of Sarah Palin. “Alaska” isn’t objectively much worse than any other TLC reality show, but then again, “Cake Boss” isn’t claiming to celebrate the glory of the people of New Jersey.

Honestly, TLC, just drop “Alaska” from the title. Save us all some time.