The PBS series Expos, which returns for a new season Friday 22 with part one of a two-part episode, profiles investigative journalists, presumably in the hope that viewers will tune in for the bio and end up absorbing urgent facts they might not otherwise have sought out. Unfortunately, the downside of such an approach is that it can yield a show that’s neither fish nor fowl. As it begins its second season, Expos is still a feathered mackerel.
The premiere’s subject is Carl Prine, a former Marine and a reporter for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review who uncovered security flaws in U.S. chemical plants and railways after 9/11. Prine didn’t have much trouble proving his point: In some cases, it was as easy as slipping through a gap in a chain-link fence and waving to security as if he belonged there. The first half of the program is a tutorial in security failures and the frightening ease with which terrorist groups can improvise weapons of mass destruction.
But this chilling information jockeys for screen time with hero-worshipping quotes about Prine, plus shots of him jogging, ambling around town and offering pithy observations that might seem more revealing if you personally knew the guy. (As a camera subject, Prine is earnest but unexciting—which wouldn’t matter if Expos hadn’t decided to build a fortress of data atop a personality sketch.) The reporter’s work was indisputably significant, and he seems like a man of principle; he even confounded critics of his patriotism by enlisting in the National Guard and surviving several roadside bombs in Iraq. But by wavering between messenger and message, Expos inadvertently contributes to the problem its format hoped to address.—Matt Zoller Seitz