For those who might not already be aware, I am currently living in the state of Texas. I would say great state of Texas but my lack of a straight face would give that away. “Go back to where you came from”. Well, I would love to go back to North Carolina and perhaps the Minnesota transplant that is using four letter words against me can do the same. However, I am very interested in how some of these states got their shapes. Perhaps the first season of “How the States Got Their Shapes” can help.
Most people take the shape of their states for granted. However, the shapes of the United States of America have went through a library list of changes to get to their current shape. Often, the story of that shape is far more interesting than the cracks and bends that many states currently possess. Thankfully, we have our host: Brian Unger who is willing to be our Johnny Cash of cable television and “Walk that Line”.
Perhaps the most common way that states have gotten their shape is through the use of waterways. Let’s take the example of Tennessee. Originally it was cut away from North Carolina and was supposed to be cut at the 35th parallel but is unfortunately a mile off which gives 51 square miles of land to Tennessee or more importantly, the Tennessee River. The water is heavily sought by Georgia to fill their need for Atlanta, a fast growing and very thirsty city. Tennessee has turned a deaf ear to their outcrys.
Then there is Maine who has an overabundance of water. There is so much water that they actually supply water to other states by the tonnage. Their shape is dictated by the large glaciers and icebergs that form every winter along the north-eastern landscape. Then there are places like Utah which would have plenty of water, but unfortunately it is trapped in Salt Lake City where water has more 3-8 times more salt than the Pacific or Atlantic Ocean.
Finally, we touch on Nevada whose very shape is dictated by the Hoover Dam and Lake Mead which supplies water to the state and most importantly Las Vegas, a giant source of revenue and wealth. However, Las Vegas could become a ghost town in the years to come due to depleting water supply. The markers are shrinking every year and the biggest problem is that the Colorado River (which is the waterway that runs into Hoover and Lake Mead) is being sucked more and more each day, primarily by California.
But the show doesn’t just look at waterways. In fact it looks over a variety of subjects in giving us the history of the shapes. It could involve political power as in the case of California or Ohio. It could involve the relationship of the church with such states like Utah. Or perhaps it was Thomas Jefferson’s idea of making the states boxy and uniform which lead the way to how the Great Plains’s states were often shaped. Even rudimentary characteristics like a person’s accent can affect the shapes of our states.
How the States Got Its Shapes is interesting for about the first couple of episodes. As time passes it becomes more of a chore and when they go over states that one has limited interest in; one might find themselves asleep on the couch dreaming of odd shaped rectangles stabbing you violently. Brian Unger is a suitable host with a bucket full of charisma but sometimes I wonder if the show would better suffice with perhaps a more “Average America” type person.
An average joe host would be able to appeal to a broader base where as Unger is the trendy and hip funny man that really just gets on your nerves after a while. But honestly, this is more of a personal preference. Also, they clearly need to get rid of the “Recreating American Revolution” footage. I don’t know if this is possibly recycled footage from History Channel’s plethora of America History shows or what but it seems very much out of place. The show is good but there are distractions that hurt the overall enjoyment.
The video is in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation. The picture looks on par with most A&E or History Channel HD presentations. Since Brian goes all over the USA, we get to see a lot of different locales. The landscapes look pretty slick and seem to be predominantly shown in the daytime for best lighting. The only negative here is with the “dramatization” footage which might be confused with psychedelic patterns. This is not Civil War theater, come on!
For the audio portion, we get a 2.0 Dolby Digital Stereo track in English. For the most part, the 2.0 track does just fine. Dialog carries and there is no problem with the clarity. Even with the thick accents (which they show off just for theme purposes). There is no real stereo activity and sound effects are minimal. It is a speak/cue theme or interlude music and that is about it. No subtitles could be found.
- Feature Length History Special: How the States Got Their Shapes 1:21:52: This is the feature that started it all. It was intended as a two hour special with commercials. It literally runs from subject to subject where as viewers wanted more detail on certain states. A lot of the same concepts and ideas can be found here as in the episodes. Obviously, this is time constrained.
Chances are the average viewer will learn a lot from How the States Got Their Shapes as long as they can stay awake long enough to do so. Brian Unger might be hip and trendy but the material is only going to appeal to historical buffs. Other people will search for their particular state, watch that episode and move on. An average joe type host might help this situation and give casual viewers a better chance to enjoy it.
Video and audio are above average and the included extra might very be all the casual viewer needs to watch. It is hard to rationalize a recommendation without getting the consumer to watch a few shows on the History Channel first. In addition, I can’t imagine much of a reason to replay these episodes either. Is it a good show to watch? I can say yes. Is it a good show to own? Not so much. But at least this will help to clear up a few questions like how Texas got so big. I bet longhorns and trucks were involved.
A River Runs Through It
The Great Plains, Trains, & Automobiles
Force of Nature
State of Rebellion
Living on the Edge
Use it or Lose It
Church and States
A Boom with a View