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‘60 Days In’ review: Reality TV goes undercover to jail

"60 Days In" follows seven participants looking for

"60 Days In" follows seven participants looking for evidence of drug smuggling at the Clark County Jail in Jeffersonville, Indiana in a 12-part docuseries on A&E. Credit: A&E

WHEN | WHERE Premieres Thursday night at 9 on A&E

GRADE C+

WHAT IT’S ABOUT The Clark County Jail in Jeffersonville, Indiana, received seven inmates last fall — none felons, but participants in this new, 12-part docuseries that follows them over a 60-day stay amid the prison’s general population. Each comes with a cover story, and their fellow prisoners do not know they are cast members — for want of a better word — in a reality show.

Clark County officials want to know (among other things) how drugs are getting smuggled in, and hope this crew will help them to find out. The seven-member cast — including Tami, Robert, Jeff, Isaiah, Zac and Barbra — all come from varied backgrounds, including law enforcement and the military, and want to do this for various reasons. There is also a celebrity (of sorts) among them — Maryum Ali, daughter of Muhammad Ali. She’s a social worker and wants to better understand recidivism and how to prevent it.

MY SAY Sure, “60 Days In” sounds like a crazy show based on what sounds like a crazy idea — and this whole enterprise may in fact be certifiably crazy. But beyond that obvious point, there may lie a significant question or two: Is this a crazy idea that could also lead to a good, or at least useful, outcome? Prison reform? Actionable or important information of some sort? Deeper insights into recidivism? “60 Days In” wants you to think so. The evidence presented Thursday, however, suggests otherwise.

A long — interminable, really — lead-in about cast motives, backgrounds and potential dangers, concludes with a five-minute clip reel of what lies in store for these seven pioneers over the next 11 episodes. Evidently no country club after all, you see Barbra’s red, swollen face, her voice just above a croak: “I need to get out of here now.” The first hour was the only one available for screening and — who knows? — maybe Barbra changes her mind in the second hour. Maybe, but not likely.

“60 Days In” purports to be reform-minded — and may well be — but doesn’t present a compelling case that it ultimately will be.

Moreover, aren’t there better, easier, safer, potentially less calamitous ways of finding out how drugs get smuggled into this jail besides placing a handful of semi-clueless stool pigeons in danger for the benefit of a prime-time entertainment?

There seem to be legal questions too — all unanswered and even unasked. Could the cast members be used to gather evidence? If so, to what end? Admissible in court? What if they participate in the commission of a crime? Could that conceivably extend their stay?

But best not to overthink “60 Days,” and “60 Days” clearly doesn’t want you to. But do at least think about poor Barbra, Robert, Jeff, et al. — obviously nice, upstanding, law-abiding citizens who quite clearly have no idea what they got themselves into.

BOTTOM LINE A wild, possibly crazy new docuseries that has one major distinction — this has never been done before, and for good reason.

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