While NBC debated whether to cut into Sharon Osbourne’s screen time on America’s Got Talent to air a Presidential press conference, it did have no trouble last night airing the embarrassing “news” program The Wanted. The series’ premise: a journalist and several counterterrorism and war-crimes experts seek out accused terrorists and war criminals who are living free in the United States and Europe. In the first episode, they hunted “Mullah Krekar,” the founder of a northern Iraqi jihadist group, now living in Norway.
“Hunted” is actually the wrong term, though it is the misleading impression the series clearly intends to convey. Krekar, as is no secret, has been living in Norway since 1991; there have been efforts for years to have him extradited to Iraq, which have been held up by Norwegian concerns that he might be tortured and not get a fair trial.
You can agree or disagree with the Norwegian government’s decisions—The Wanted clearly disagrees—but the series goes to ridiculous lengths to pretend that it’s sleuthing out information and a man who are hiding in plain sight. It spent considerable time on a “surveillance” of Krekar’s Norway location, which served no purpose but to show the team doing surveillance. Just like good guys do on TV!
The problem is, without such overdramatic touches, all you have here is a set of polemical and one-sided interviews with Scandinavian bureaucrats about their extradition policies, plus an interview with an extremist loudmouth glad of a TV platform.
That might have some appeal—let’s show that terrorist and those snotty Europeans!—but to make this into fetching primetime infotainment, we need bombastic movement music, handheld camera a la 24 (with pointless verite flourishes like camera shots in the middle of sitdown interviews where half the subject’s face is obscured by the questioner’s head) and lots of hyperbole.
The Wanted was able to find people willing to aggrandize Krekar as a super-threat (“A man who intelligence officials have called ‘Osama bin Laden 2.0′”), and Norwegian opposition politicians glad to criticize Oslo, then top the whole spooky sundae off with flashy camera flair and sound effects. “I think he has the potential to be a threat to Americans inside America.” BOOM!
And the end result? A postscript saying that Norway and Iraq were—still—talking about Krekar’s extradition. Thank you, The Wanted, for the protection. Or rather, the distraction.