Overview: The VICE original series returns to HBO with an eighteen episode run with new reports from all around the world. A new graphic overlay is used making for a sleeker presentation and some new correspondents have been brought onboard. Shane Smith once again announces each segment from its new west coast offices in Venice, California. Season Four features returning and new correspondents. Joining Shane Smith again are VICE Media co-founder Suroosh Alvi; conflict-zone journalist, documentary filmmaker and author Ben Anderson; Emmy-nominated producer and correspondent Gianna Toboni; filmmaker and producer Vikram Gandhi; and veteran VICE correspondents Isobel Yeung, Hamilton Morris and Thomas Morton. New correspondents include Emmy-nominated journalist and Middle East expert Ahmed Shihab-Eldin and Kaj Larsen, an 11-year veteran of the U.S. Navy SEALs.
As always VICE covers political, cultural and environmental news and concisely reports on such matters in in a short amount of time. As is the norm each show has two reports from two different correspondents each approximately fifteen minutes each. In the premiere installment we are faced with the dangers of the militant Boko Haram and the scientific breakthrough in editing genetic code and its ramifications.
The specifics on the premiere reports follows: The terrorist group Boko Haram is responsible for thousands of deaths in Nigeria. Now, the government is determined to drive these militants from the country. But is the hunt for insurgents causing as much harm as it’s preventing? Former Navy SEAL and new VICE correspondent Kaj Larsen travels to Nigeria to see what this cat-and-mouse game means for the people caught in the middle of the fight. Also, for centuries, scientists have been working to change the genetic traits of plants and animals. Now, the new gene-editing method CRISPR has made that process astonishingly simple – so simple it could easily be used on humans. Isobel Yeung reports from Brazil, Scotland, China and the U.S. on the technological advances that could reshape evolution as we know it.
Expectations: If you follow VICE in any format than you are familiar with the Islamic extremists known as Boko Haram in Africa. If you don’t know of it then I expect a real eye-opener for you here. It is the most horrifically violent extremist group out there and I am sure VICE will leave us with that impression once this report is seen.
However, VICE is not all about the war stories; it is not about the political upheavals that rock this world. It also focuses on cultural and scientific matters as well. In fact, its website has music and food reports all the time. Those types of reports don’t make it on HBO, at least not yet. Of course, it is the big dangerous reports that get the most attention. This debut installment of Season Four offers a balance. It leads off with the big shocking story, but concludes with a scientific report that for some could be as equally alarming. Breakthroughs in genetic manipulations as of late make it possible to play with the evolution of all species on Earth. That is pretty amazing and startling.There was not a specific trailer for this episode, but here is the new season’s promo.
Gut Reaction: “Boko Haram” by Correspondent Kaj Larsen. This guy is retired Navy SEAL. That pretty much means he is able and willing to go anywhere and risk life and limb. He heads to Nigeria and Chad to give us the rundown of who Boko Haram is, its modus operandi, just how bad they are and the tactics used to halt all that badness. Again, if you are unfamiliar with this group you are in for a surprise. Statistics have shown, and are stated here, that it is more deadly than ISIS. And you may flinch a few times doing this report as the aftermath of that deadliness is shown. Larsen is not in the heat of any assault here, but he is present at a crime scene of a suicide bombing, plus there is news footage of the carnage. Dead bodies both intact and in pieces are shown. It is pretty grim.
The thugs are out to convert everyone, by force, to be devout to Islam and Allah and don’t hesitate to put you down if not. They have even officially become the southern branch of ISIS in their goal. This graphic, and VICE is effective in using them in segments, shows the danger in that. The governments affected in northern Africa are just as militarized to stop the growth of this militant group and Larsen is seen talking to presidents, governors and frontline officials toward that goal. More surprising he is able to sit down with Boko Haram officials as well to get their side of the story. It all makes for one exciting start to the season.
Kaj Larsen is a great asset to VICE here. He has already filed reports for VICE.com, but this is his first for the HBO series. Remember, we just see the edited report, but it takes time long before hand to get embedded into the region, become welcomed and schedule to see dignitaries, ride along with policing squads and be allowed to film in restricted areas and gain acceptance to interview survivors. Even if Larsen does not file another report all season the fact that he got into this region and was able to complete a solid story is an accomplishment.
“Unnatural Selection” by correspondent Isobel Yeung offers something completely different and maybe equally alarming. Once again, we have a medical breakthroughs and this time it is in gene editing. If you have ever wondered how all this works on a molecular level Yeung is going to spell it out for you and pop in cool graphics of DNA strains being manipulated to help do it.
Of course this process, nicknamed CRISPR, didn’t happen overnight. Isobel is there to see work in process on the testing of butterflies, pigs, complete with glowing snouts, mice and mosquitos. It proves that the lab work and case studies have been successful, here, in Scotland and in China. Not only can you snip out a piece of genetic code to change gender, but you can make cells glow under a black light, change gender and even eye color. It all proves quite interesting and this segment illustrates that point well. It seems not only can you do the editing, but, under the correct intense microscope, is quite easy to perform.
Then comes the human equation. If you can do it to lesser species than gene editing human genome is next and it is already happening. A couple can now specify the gender and characteristics of their child before it is even conceived. The whole trick to the situation is how far to take it? This report does not take the approach of whether it is morally or ethically right to tweak genes in this way. But, that debate, of whether we are ‘playing God’, is not in the scientific community’s mindset. They do the science and leave those issues for others to question. We have debated and set the bar that human clones are not to be made; now comes the issue of whether we should tweak evolution enough to create a newer species of sapiens. CRISPR gives us that capability and it is interesting to see where it goes. We’re glad Miss Yeung and VICE gave us the glimpse.
In Conclusion: Both of these segments show top notch correspondents addressing top stories in their fields of interest. There is no question that militant Islamic extremists are a major threat and Larsen has clearly reaffirmed those dangers. It will not be the last we hear of it either. And the medical community is abuzz with the CRISPR process and all the benefits it will offer humanity in the future Yeung has just touched on the beginning steps and we are eager to see where it leads.
A follow-up, or Debrief, was given to Kaj Larsen after his report. Here is what we learned –
Note: HBOWatch will not report, due to a lack of reader interest, on the episodes on a weekly basis this season. Yeah, it seems I’m the only one interested. We will check back in on it at a future date to let you know what you missed. Until then. Peace.