World and Nation

‘Palin’s Alaska’: fishing, climbing and feeding a following on TV

Sarah Palin says her new series on TLC is not a reality show, and she has a point. The show is not an outdoorsy version of celebrity-dysfunction shows like “Keeping Up With the Kardashians” or “The Hasselhoffs.”

“Sarah Palin’s Alaska,” which begins Sunday, is odder than that. The snowcapped mountains, pine forests and shimmering lakes are majestic, the Palin children are adorable and the series looks like a travelogue — wholesome, visually breathtaking and a little dull. In a way it’s like “The Sound of Music” but without the romance, the Nazis or the music.

There are a few shots of the great indoors, coyly edited scenes of family friction that are de rigueur in reality shows. In one, Palin asks her teenage daughter, Willow, to do a chore, and Willow, just rising around noon, answers sarcastically, “Sorry, no can do,” as she inspects the fridge.

But mostly, the eight-part series lives up to its title — the camera follows the former Alaska governor and Republican vice presidential nominee as she fishes, hunts, dog-sleds and rock-climbs. It’s a nature series for political voyeurs: Viewers get to observe Palin observing nature.

And to her credit, the governor who quit the job with more than a year left to her term doesn’t use the camera crew to recast her image or pad gaps in her resume. She doesn’t pore over position papers in a book-lined study, phone foreign leaders or even watch “Jeopardy.”

Mostly she has fun outdoors. That includes white-water rafting, kayaking, salmon fishing and climbing glaciers.

“You know what they say,” she says to the camera after a disappointing fishing trip. “A poor day of fishing beats even a great day of work.”

When she works, it doesn’t take up a great deal of time. Palin slips out of her hoodie and running shorts and into a red power blazer, dons an earpiece and talks to Fox News in a makeshift television studio next to her house as her husband, Todd, works the camera.

Her preparation is homespun.

“So, Todd,” Palin asks from her desk seconds before airtime, “if they want a personal example — with all the uncertainty regarding what new taxes may be hit — that would influence how many guys you would hire?”

A reality show is a risky step for any politician, but then Palin is no ordinary politician. It’s still not clear whether she plans to run for president in 2012 or is just riding high on her popularity and fame. The TLC program highlights her physical bravery, but the series’ existence points to a different kind of courage: Palin is not afraid to be herself.