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  • Jasmine Ledesma

In Defense of Intervention

Updated: Oct 15, 2021

I can recall the first time I sat down with the intent of consuming an episode of Intervention with a clarity often reserved for first kisses. I blame this searing of the memory on the setting. It was in July of last summer -- the season I reckon with most. That nightmarish heat pressed up against my windows, the days that never seem to end, flies crowning me when I dare to step outside.

And as it happened, that summer, in particular, was odd all around. Aside from the development of the ongoing pandemic, I was still fresh, more so than I wanted to recognize, off the heels of my sister’s death the summer before. She was an addict for almost her entire life and it would go on to eventually kill her.

At the time, I wanted a distraction from the night that stretched on before me. I was simply browsing through Hulu’s catalog and pressed play on a show I thought would be dumb, something I could lose myself in for the night. I got more than I expected.

As a child, I was obsessed, as most of America was and continues to be, the Kardashians. I would lay across my aunt’s couch with chocolate chip cookies stuffed into my pockets for snacking on, emergency cell phone on silent, and watch hours. Each episode feeding into the next. I bathed in the bright fluorescents that splashed across the walls as I watched. Like the light in hospitals.

Suffice to say, I am no stranger to reality television. In fact, I am an avid fan. Whenever people ask the question, that dicey ice-breaker that can either isolate you from or secure you within a conversation, -- what kind of stuff do you watch? My answer ranges from everything from Ink Masters to Love Island. But it is always within the realm of presumably watered-down, plastic reality shows.

In the land of reality television where ostentatious, easily digestible stories reign supreme -- for example, Jersey Shore is making a resurgence in the public consciousness, everybody is replaying the clip of Snookie getting sucker punched and remembering Pauly D’s tattoos -- it is strange that Intervention exists at all. And even stranger that it has amassed a whopping 22 seasons.

It makes sense from some angles. As far as style goes, Intervention hits all the marks. There are dramatic chase scenes, wobbly camera work in which we are made aware of the cameramen, intense introductions.

But the content is where it differs from everything else. It is not a pretty show, certainly not something you can watch with friends at a sleep-over. It is abrasive, sometimes off-putting. I’d argue Intervention is the very antithesis of most reality television.

Most episodes begin with the central addict partaking in whatever substance they have become dependent on. For some, heroin is their medium. For others, chugging entire bottles of vodka is how they get through the days. Some even drink hand sanitizer or huff keyboard cleaner.

These unflinching, brutally honest scenes are followed with talking head segments from various family members in which they describe how their loved one’s addiction has affected them. These are people chasing oblivion. These are people living in constant fear for somebody they love. Nobody is having fun.

So then, how has a show so bleak and distressing retained popularity? Especially within a genre that is otherwise considered laughable? Because admittedly, it is what we want. Such is the Achilles heel of the consumer -- even though you know you’re being sold a product, even as aware of the parasitic nature of the product as you might be, you’re still able to be caught in the spell of it. You aren’t immune to desire.

Intervention is as blatantly voyeuristic as it is cathartic. For forty minutes, we as the unaffected viewer, are allowed into the murky gallows of rock bottom. And we relish in it. In the pain, and drive towards senseless stupefaction. Perhaps we even recognize it.

I can understand it, much better than I did last summer. Wanting to shed the coat of living, to become a sliver of morning light preening throughout an empty room. To leave the room entirely. Even if only for a moment. I can understand forgoing everything chasing that moment.

In episode 18 of season 12, a woman described as a 'doe-eyed' 19-year-old, laments about her relationship with heroin, particularly in shooting it. She slurs -- “But the needle. My lover, my lover. The needle is instant.”

Intervention is returning for season 23 later this month, on October 18th. And as you can likely guess, I’m tuning in.

Want more TV? Check these out:

Jasmine Ledesma is both a writer based in New York and a Pyrrhic contributor. Her work has appeared in or is set to appear in places such as Crazyhorse, Rattle, and [PANK] among others. Her work was nominated for both Best of The Net and the Pushcart Prize in 2020. She was named a Brooklyn Poets fellow in 2021.

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