Drugs are the curse of society. Heroin is addictive. Drugs are associated with criminal and gangland activity. The middle-class also take drugs as well as the junkies. Heroin kingpins can be charming people. What else do you want to tell me? Ross Kemp wastes his time, states the obvious and finds out very little with the first episode of his brand new series Ross Kemp: Extreme World.
I’ve continually praised Ross Kemp as a documentarian, especially for his work on Ross Kemp On Gangs and Ross Kemp In Search Of Pirates. To have the courage to do what he does and to visit the places he goes to, takes nerve for one, and wit for another. Actually exploring issues which need to be brought to the surface for viewers to understand and appreciate takes some feat. But for the first time, he actually produced a pointless documentary, leaving me with the question, did I really learn anything interesting from this?
In his return to the silver screen, Ross Kemp visited Chicago, looking into what has come of this city to make it “Heroine Capital Of America”. The episode started compellingly, and as it typically does with any Ross Kemp documentary. He meets a bystander at the heart of the issue. In this case Professor Greg Scott of Chicago’s DePaul University. A bloke you wouldn’t think at first sight would be the sort of geezer giving lectures at some prestigious, overestimated university establishment – his arms are overwhelmed by tattoos and he knows so much about the dark side of life. Scott is no ordinary professor, he’s an outreach worker for heroine addicts, especially Chicago’s Westside.
Through his vast insight of Chicago ‘s drug problems, Scott takes Ross to the city’s largest stomping ground for drug addicts the “brickyard” – a kind of shanty town, where heroin and crack abusers indulge in their addictions. I would call this the most fascinating part of the show as we got to witness how the users inject themselves with the drugs and also we saw how one addict suffered a convulsion after consuming. Furthermore we gained valuable insight into their motivations for using and what sensation they got from taking drugs.
After this, the show lost all steam and I dare say it – became flat. He visits a suburban mother who injected whilst she was 15, a couple of drug-obsessed prostitutes, a chop house where they manufacture the products and he comes face to face with a drug baron, responsible for half of the city’s drug activities. As I watched this several thoughts were going through my head – is there anything here I wouldn’t have known already or imagined after watching an episode of Miami Vice or after watching American Gangster? Sadly there wasn’t.
What he does well is he focuses on the negative aspects of drugs. Therefore the mental burdens it can cause, how it can destroy a whole family and how just one hook can be the lethal cause of disintegration. So we are introduced to the term “cuffing” whereby women who cannot get a fix from their regular drug dealers are steered into prostitution in return for drugs. And we glean over how drugs are manufactured in a cutting house, by women who cut nakedly, so they can’t steal samples and then how it is transported to the streets, where guinea pigs i.e. the very desperate junkies, are used to see if the drugs are potent and effective enough.
My main problem with the show though was that we didn’t get to take anything positive from the show. Although Scott was part of an outreach program there was nothing about rehabilitation. I didn’t really understand how he was helping the drug users. He gave them temporary cures to convulsion but what was he doing to turn around their lives.
Also there was talk heroine was spreading from the inner city to suburbia but Kemp never really got to talk to someone from that area. The mother from suburbia he spoke to, not to sound harsh, said most of the people around her were doing drugs. So in a sense I wasn’t surprised she got hooked in the addiction as well. I wanted to see if he could speak to someone in that middle-class region, who you wouldn’t expect to be doing heroine, doing it secretly.
Therefore what I was really disappointed by the show was how unequally balanced it was, which was quite peculiar when looking back at Kemp’s body of documentary work. He only focused on the effects of drug consumption and how drugs get produced and get put on the streets, all things he found to be as seedy and bedraggled as we would’ve expected. If he had concentrated more on how the government is trying to tackle this issue and how the outreach program is trying to help the despairing junkies I believe it would’ve made for a more interesting perspective.
In essence there was no clear narrative, there was no structure and it did seem as if he was just picking random places to go to. And our hopes of finding out something interesting, something we weren’t aware of, were completely dashed by an ineffective and very expected documentary. His conclusion for this episode, for me, was enough evidence of the show’s predictability and pointlessness, when Kemp says Heroin is not just Chicago’s problem but a global issue. Ok thanks for letting me now, I wasn’t aware drugs was an issue around the whole world.