BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. -- National Geographic Channel's "Doomsday Preppers" will be received either as a comedy or drama, depending on the person watching.
For addicts to fear-mongering, "Doomsday Preppers" (9 and 10 p.m. Tuesday) will no doubt be serious drama. For others, it's clearly a comedy that expects viewers to laugh at those featured in the show. Sometimes their loved ones even express doubts about the preppers' obsessions.
Returning for its second season this week, "Doomsday Preppers" profiles in each episode three people (or families) preparing for an apocalypse. In Tuesday's first of two episodes-- "Am I Nuts Or Are You?" -- viewers meet folks who are preparing for smallpox, a nuclear attack from Russia and anarchy following an economic collapse.
The Southwick family of suburban Salt Lake City go along with father Braxton's contingency plans in case of a smallpox outbreak, but wife Kara admits, "I don't know if I believe in doomsday or not. Braxton tends to be very OCD in that he gets one idea in his head, and that's his project for the next three years."
A country music producer identified as Big Al doesn't appear to have any family -- or at least any willing to go on camera with him -- when he takes the "Preppers" cameras to an underground bunker where he tries to spend three months each year to prepare for a Russian nuclear attack that would wipe out cities.
"So long, Tulsa. Bye-bye, Pittsburgh," he says.
Pittsburgher Josh Wander is featured in the Dec. 4 episode of "Preppers." He's Jewish and will be shown readying Kosher food for storage in the event of a catastrophic event.
At the end of each segment, preppers are rated by Practical Preppers consultants, but the scores aren't explained in any meaningful way.
Perhaps the scariest prepper in the season premiere is 15-year-old Jason Beacham of Plato, Mo., who almost burns down an abandoned building while doing a test prepping session with friends.
"Jason has always been a worrywart," his mother says. "He's always been concerned about things a typical child wouldn't seem to be concerned with."
After a scene that shows Jason practicing target shooting with his grandfather's handgun, his mother admits she wonders whether her son should have so many weapons, including a "maceball bat" -- a baseball bat Jason turned into a sort of mace.
"Seriously, I just want to be a normal mom," she says. "Normal moms don't have maceball bats."
Comments like these prove "Doomsday Preppers" doesn't take its stars' concerns seriously. A fact check at the end of each segment tends to debunk the fears of the preppers just featured. The narrator tells viewers the U.S. and Russia are working toward a policy of nuclear disarmament; few economists believe a total economic collapse is likely; there are only two known samples of smallpox remaining and there's enough vaccine available in the event of an outbreak.
Of course, only the most extreme preppers make the cut for the show. It is entertainment, after all. But a producer and the Southwicks appeared at an August National Geographic Channel press conference and made the case for more general preparedness.
"If you've ever put [bottled] water in your basement, if you ever saved $1,000 in your checking account for a rainy day, that's a form of prepping," said executive producer Matt Sharp
Braxton Southwick said it's always wise to have an emergency plan.
"We all live in an area where there's natural disasters," he noted.
David Kobler, co-owner and co-founder of Practical Preppers, said he received an email from a prepper mom who'd stored a one-year supply of food that came in handy when her husband got laid off.
"It doesn't have to be the end of the world," Mr. Kobler said, "and that's proof positive that prepping is paying off in that family's life."
But it's easy to go overboard, as "Doomsday Preppers" suggests in some segments.
"If your prepping interferes or hurts the people you love, then you need to stop," Mr. Kobler said.
National Geographic Channel is available via Comcast (Channel 109 or 120/871HD), Verizon's FiosTV (121/621HD), Armstrong (418/189HD), DirecTV (276) and DISH Network (186).tvradio
Rob Owen writes this Sunday TV column for Scripps Howard News Service. Contact him at: email@example.com or 412-263-2582. Read the Tuned In Journal blog at post-gazette.com/tv. Follow RobOwenTV on Twitter or Facebook.