6.6/10
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7 user 4 critic

United Shades of America 

W. Kamau Bell travels America and dives into issues in America such as racism, incarceration, and more.
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Won 3 Primetime Emmys. Another 11 nominations. See more awards »

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W. Kamau Bell ...  Himself - Host / ... 21 episodes, 2016-2018
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Comic and political provocateur W. Kamau Bell hosts this CNN original documentary series in which he travels to the far corners of America to explore race-based subcultures. Using humor to soften his experiences, Bell willingly subjects himself to awkward situations -- like attending a cross-burning, hate-mongering Ku Klux Klan session -- to demonstrate "the many diverse and colorful definitions of America," CNN says. Bell also visits a gated retirement community, experiences inner-city policing, spends time with spring break revelers, speaks to prison inmates, and travels to the Last Frontier. Written by Jwelch5742

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USA

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English

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23 April 2016 (USA) See more »

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Actual air date is in April 2016 See more »

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Not Michael Moore
19 February 2017 | by drjgardnerSee all my reviews

According to Wikipedia Walter Kamau Bell is a stand-up comic and television host. I don't know Bell's work but I was attracted to United Shades of America, the episode about Portland, since my son has been talking about moving there.

In Portland men like to wear beards and women like asymmetrical haircuts. They value the environment and many of them use bikes, not only to transport themselves and their kids, but also their goats. Coffee shops are a mainstay of Portland hipster, though few people will cop to being a "hipster". Portland has "cuddle shops" and Bell spends an hour cuddling there, and he finds a home industry where they sell bow ties for dogs, made from recycled material.

So the counter culture is alive and well in Portland, but Bell seems very upset being around so many white people. After about 15 minutes of moving around the City, Bell does some stand-up, then fortunately goes back to the documentary, though if you stick around long enough, you'll have to endure more stand-up. Let's just say he's no Chris Rock (who produced Bell's TV series "Totally Biased")

The main theme throughout is Bell's scorn for hipsters and gentrification, and his sorrow that more black people don't live in Portland (Bell himself lives in San Francisco). Bell is worried that black people are being negatively impacted by gentrification, although his own interviews show that both black and white people are impacted.

I think the idea of "United Shades of America" is a good one and I don't mind a guy with a chip on his shoulder. Some of Michael Moore's films are among my favorites (Roger and Me, Bowling for Columbine). But you need more than a chip, and I didn't see much from this one episode. That being said, I did enjoy the tour of Portland and his interviews with the hipsters he was trying to expose. But unlike Michael Moore, he isn't successful in using the people against themselves, which I gather is a prime intention of Bell. That skill, fine-tuned by people like Moore and Sacha Baron Cohen ("Borat") seems beyond Bell's abilities.

Evaluating a whole series based on one episode isn't entirely fair, so I suffered through a few more episodes. Bell was less angry and tried to be more funny. I don't find him funny, so maybe he should stick with the angry angle.

If you're a fan of Bell you'll probably enjoy the series.


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