Extreme Couponing, which premiered on TLC, has elicited some extreme reactions. Some reviewers and viewers have scorned the show as an example of obsessive selfishness. Others admire the ingenuity of the shoppers who are able to reduce $1,000-plus grocery bills to a little over $100.
Me, I think the show is a canny example of two elements floating through the country right now. The first is a fascination with extreme behavior as it’s filtered through reality TV, whether we’re talking about people who sire a lot of children (hello, Duggar family) or who stuff their bodies with a lot of drugs (hello, Intervention and Relapse). The second is the fact that a lot of people don’t have as much money as they used to. It’s the economy, not-stupid!
Sure, Extreme Couponing presented some people stocking up on things they don’t need, such as the guy who admitted he didn’t eat mustard even as his wife bought dozens of bottles of the stuff. But that’s the way TV works these days: People watch The Biggest Loser and, at best, maybe pick up some tips and a bit of inspiration to lose weight. It’s junk programming, yet it imparts a sliver of useful information.
The same goes for Extreme Couponing. If, while gawping at the people who spend their lives scouring trash cans for newspaper coupon supplements, a viewer learns how to reduce his or her grocery bill for the family, what’s the harm? Entertainment and free(ish) food.
I won’t lie: I’m not going to add Extreme Couponing to my DVR schedule. But I’m also not going to discount, if you’ll excuse the expression, the impulses and, in some cases, needs that inspire its popularity.