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’Gone Too Far’ a sobering look at young drug addicts

TV Review

Published: Friday, October 23, 2009

Updated: Friday, October 23, 2009 07:10

    On Aug. 28, 2009, Adam "DJ AM" Goldstein was found dead in his apartment with a bag of crack cocaine and drug paraphernalia beside him.

    But that's the end of the story. Time to go back to the beginning.

    During the winter of 2009, DJ AM set out to film an eight-part miniseries called "Gone Too Far" for MTV, wherein he helps young addicts break their addictions. After Goldstein's drug overdose, his family decided to air the show in tribute to him. In each episode, Goldstein speaks to an addict and that person's family, stages interventions and, with any luck, sends them to rehab centers to get clean.

    The first episode features Amy, a 23-year-old heroin addict from Philadelphia, Goldstein's hometown. The second centers on Gina, a 20-year-old heroin and angel dust addict from Hartford, Conn.

    Each episode follows the same structure but presents Goldstein with its own set of problems. Amy, for example, constantly steals from her family members to support her addiction, angering them and driving them away from her. Gina, on the other hand, receives money from her family members to fund the drugs, their rationale being that they would rather fund her than have her out on the streets. Both families opt not to turn in their addicts or force them into rehab, effectively enabling them and exacerbating already sticky situations.

    Both of the first two episodes have been eye-openers, in part because they focus on young female addicts who do not fit the normative "drug addict" stereotype. The message here is that addiction can, and does, strike everyone.

    There is love in the families of the addicts profiled on "Gone Too Far," and though it doesn't seem as though the families are intervening for TV fame, there's still a grey area. Regardless, if the only way that these young people could get help is to appear on DJ AM's high-profile MTV rehabilitation show, that's better than nothing.

    It's easy to be turned off or overwhelmed by the sensitive content of "Gone Too Far," but the show succeeds in its portrayal of the events. "Gone Too Far" feels far less exploitive than its VH1 and A&E counterparts, "Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew" and "Intervention," respectively. Segments before and after commercial breaks advertise an MTV substance abuse-awareness Web site, substanceabuse.mtv.com, and indeed the show's purpose can often seem to be education more than entertainment.

    It's hard to reconcile this show with the fact that Goldstein himself died of a drug overdose this past August. Goldstein, though only in his mid-30s at the time the show was filmed, looks much older. It's clear that his own drug use had taken a toll: His face is paunchy, wrinkled and scarred, and the way he talks to the addicts and their families shows that he understands firsthand the trauma that they are experiencing.

    When Gina, the heroin addict from the second episode, leaves rehab and relapses, Goldstein seems genuinely upset, but he seems more surprised than disappointed. Personal experience with drug addiction seems to have given Goldstein the heart and understanding to try to make a change, but being around addicts couldn't have been good for him — and quite possibly had a hand in his relapse. As he doles out advice to the addicts and their families, Goldstein seems fully heartfelt and honest, but the specter of his personal tragedy-to-come looms over everything he says.

    The series is short, but the eight hour-long episodes will live on long after they've aired on MTV, as educational tools and warnings for addicts and their loved ones. While the show isn't entertaining in any typical sense of the word, it is eye-opening and well produced.

    It's hard to recommend "Gone Too Far," but impossible to ignore it. I've chosen not to give "Gone Too Far" the Daily's usual star rating. It would be a fairly high rating, but that would make it out to be entertainment, and "Gone Too Far" is not a flipping-channels-for-fun show.

    Programs such as these raise serious ethical issues, but it is ultimately important to be aware of the troubling stories behind them. The real tragedy of this show is Goldstein's fate: While he could help these young adults, no one could help him, even with 11 years of sobriety under his belt.

    Maybe that's the ultimate lesson: no one is impervious to the dangers of addiction.

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