Dept. of All Things Lost But Not Forgotten


The Vice channel was the first real thing on YouTube that I considered to be like a traditional broadcast network. This was in late 2013. I had tuned in to their content on and off for awhile, but it wasn’t until Russia invaded the Ukraine in early 2014 that I really sat up and took notice of their work. Their on ground reporting rivalled that of CNN, and reminded me a lot of what CNN were doing during the first Gulf War.

The content that Vice were putting out were emblematic of the time: news and magazine shows managed by Gen X, but lead by Gen Y. With their multi-episode look inside North Korea, or shows focused on marijuana use (Weediquette), or just stories on the fringes of society (Fringes), Vice were shining a light on topics that were probably a little taboo (definitely by Malaysian broadcast standards) and telling them in a way that appealed to an audience that grew up online and didn’t trust, or accept, more “mainstream” sources.

In 2016, Vice pivoted to broadcast TV and added the Viceland channel to their growing media empire. By this time Vice had already successfully launched their own news channel, Vice News, a food oriented channel, Munchies, a channel focused on music, Noisey, a channel focused on the female experience, Vice Life, and a fashion and culture channel specifically for the “youth,” i-D.

Rick McCrank in an abandoned shopping mall in Ohio.

One of the first shows that debuted on that new tv channel in early 2016 was Abandoned. The series, just like it says on the tin, was about rediscovering abandoned spaces and places in North America and Canada. The show, hosted by professional skateboarder Rick McCrank could have easily gone wrong. It could have been nothing more than a skateboarder, going around to abandoned places, and just thrashing about on his board. But what Vice did was different.

Abandoned looks past the current state of what is, and explores the rich histories of the places that it goes to, from abandoned shopping malls in Ohio, to abandoned schools in St. Louis, and the dying – and dead – fishing towns off Newfoundland, on the east coast of Canada. The show could have very easily devolved into poverty-porn, but the producer, and McCrank himself, decided instead to focus on what little life is left in these places. 

Rick McCrank standing in an abandoned lot in New Orleans.

McCrank himself is a great host. He never comes to the places he visits with any preconceived notions of poverty. He isn’t there to pity or to shame. He is the perfect host, welcoming, warm, light hearted and friendly. McCrank isn’t there to pass judgement, or to evoke emotion from a distant audience. He is there to experience. 

Abandoned is melancholy on screen. Going to all these places that have just about been forgotten to time, with people who are either fighting for what is left, or just guarding it against decay, Abandoned treats the experience with the reverence it deserves. Sure, it may just be a mall in Ohio. Or an abandoned mining town in Northern British Columbia. Or a crumbling car manufacturing complex in Detroit. But Abandoned doesn’t forget how, at one time, thousands of people called that place home. That sense of history, that esteem for what it once was, permeates every shot of this show. Even McCrank’s narration is tinged with the sadness of glory days past.

Host Rick McCrank and his cameraman behind the scenes of the shooting of the show Abandoned.

Shows like these always get me curious about its production. There is an ease to the episode that feels both planned and prepared, but at the same time, organic and off the cuff. As when McCrank is having a chat with a local of the Salton Sea in California, only for the guest’s friend to pop by and join in. Those unplanned moments can only come from a host and a production team so comfortable with each other, and so curious about the topic, that anyone with a story is someone they will gladly listen to. And that to me is what makes for great non-fiction television. It shouldn’t just be a job for the host and the producers. It isn’t enough for them to just want to tell a specific story. They need to be curious enough to let the story take them to places they didn’t know they needed to go.

Rick McCrank in the decaying gym of an abandoned high school in St. Louis.

Abandoned is melancholy on screen. The music, the imagery, the writing, hits you in the heart and in the mind. It is a reminder that while the best days of these places may be long behind them, they will never, ever be forgotten. And that is an incredibly human story that’s worth telling.

VICELAND, season 1, 10 episodes
Showrunners: Alex Craig, Jason Ford, and David Galloway
Host: Rick McCrank

Bahir likes to review movies because he can watch them at special screenings and not have to interact with large groups of people who may not agree with his idea of what a movie going experience is. Bahir likes jazz, documentaries, Ken Burns, and summer blockbuster movies. He really hopes that the HBO MAX Green Lantern series will help the character be cool again. Also don’t get him started on Jason Momoa’s Aquaman (#NotMyArthurCurry).

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