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Film and TV

'Amazing America' recap: Pirate treasure, 007 cars, and driving lesson memories

The most amazing thing about this week's first episode of "Amazing America with Sarah Palin"? Sarah Palin's amazing hair. Our Sarah's hair has been sort of hit-or-miss over the years, but this bouffant is a home run. If anyone knows about a YouTube tutorial for this hairstyle, hit me up with a link. You know what they say: The higher the hair, the closer to God.

Onward, then, to the first outing of the week, and to Brewster, Mass., where we meet a new field host, Benny Spies, and a new guest, Barry Clifford, whom Sarah describes as "an ocean explorer who uses his American spirit to take on the hard work of unearthing and preserving actual pirates' treasure." Which gives her a chance to make this amazing pirate joke:

"Arrr ya ready for adventure?"


As it turns out, Barry doesn't so much unearth pirate treasure as he does unsink it. Barry palled up with his buddy John Kennedy Jr. (God rest his beautiful soul) in the early 1980s to recover the Golden Age pirate ship Whydah off the coast of Massachusetts.

Barry shows off a handful of the 200,000-plus Whydah artifacts, including a blunderbuss and a pewter syringe that was used to administer tincture of mercury.

"This was used to treat syphilis," he explains.

"And you're -- what?" Benny double-takes.

Sarah then breaks in to explain the old-timey pirate treatment process for syphilis. Guess what? Getting shot up with mercury is actually the most pleasant part of the whole ordeal.

Next, Barry pawns Benny off on a conservator working on disarming a still-loaded 300-year-old cannon and then peaces out. Clearly, Barry is no dummy. Benny and the conservator carefully go in to extract hemp wadding from the cannon, and instead they find a surprise: A bag of lead shot. It's the original anti-personnel weapon.

"This is a bad-ass piece of ammunition," the conservator marvels. Then he makes Benny an offer:

"How'd you like to go meet Black Sam Bellamy, the captain?"

Benny blinks, then asks: "He's in the office?"

Turns out, there's no pirate; just a painting of one. Oh, and a big pile of Spanish pieces of eight, which Sarah explains were the precursor to the American dollar (and a good thing we ditched gold for paper, she adds, or she'd have to carry "a much bigger purse").

Next, field host Mark Christopher Lawrence heads out to Sandusky, Mich., to meet Dennis Harris, a taxidermist who has multiple world championships under his (presumably exotic leather) belt.

"If taxidermy doesn't look alive and real, it ain't done right," Dennis tells Mark. Dennis is big into lifelike poses that make animals look as though they're suspended in midair. Basically the only animal he doesn't have mounted in his shop is a unicorn, and frankly, I wouldn't be surprised if he had one in the back room.

What follows is a lot like an episode of "Mounted in Alaska," but with less Alaska and more Mark Christopher Lawrence. Call me provincial, but I'm partial to the Alaska taxidermist. Actually, if we can pause and play Fantasy Reality TV for a moment, I would completely watch a show about Sarah Palin hanging out with the guy from "Mounted in Alaska." You listening, Mark Burnett?

In Thursday's second episode, we learn about Americans who are "dedicated to the well-being of others." Turns out this means, at least in part, Americans who make indestructible superspy cars. Benny goes to the Texas Armoring Corp., where company president and CEO Trent Kimball shows off some of the company's vehicle armoring products. Essentially, customers send in regular cars, and TAC strips them down and pieces them back together with steel armor and shatterproof windows.

Benny asks if a TAC-outfitted vehicle would deflect shots from a bow and arrow. Trent says an arrow would bounce right off but gently points out: "It would probably bounce off a regular vehicle, too, Benny."

A TAC-armored vehicle, though, is different from your mom's old Volvo in that it's literally bulletproof. TAC vehicles can stand up to automatic weapon fire. And because this is "Amazing America," you know we get to see that claim put to the test. Meet Lawrence Kosub, who has pretty much the coolest job in Texas: He gets paid to shoot up armored cars.

"I'm jealous," Benny admits.

Lawrence fires off a few rounds at the bulletproof glass installed in a BMW sedan. The window cracks and bows but doesn't shatter.

And then Benny takes a TAC-juiced Suburban on a test drive (complete with faux enemy in pursuit) to show off some of the other optional features: electric shock door handles, smokescreen systems, lights and sirens, loudspeakers, night vision, and tire-piercing tacks that drop on the ground behind the vehicle.

Sarah wraps up the segment by describing TAC as among American "visionaries who create innovations far beyond our wildest dreams." I don't want to be a hater here, and don't get me wrong, the TAC vehicle features are pretty cool -- but they're not beyond my wildest dreams. I'm pretty sure I saw them all in an early James Bond movie.

Finally, my buddy Jerry Carroll goes down to College Station, Texas, to do some firefighter training at Texas A&M, because firefighters are the real American heroes.

Here's the funny thing about firefighters: Sometimes they are not so much heroes as they are your dad, and when this is the case sometimes you're a teenager and you're learning to drive, and one weekend your dad takes you down to the fire training center to drive courses in the parking lot and makes you go in reverse for an hour before he'll let you drive forward, because this will make you a better driver, and then he teaches you to parallel park, and when you finally get it right after the 20th try, he only gives you a split second to celebrate before he says, "Next time, we'll try it in a parking spot that wasn't designed for an ambulance."

Not that I'm speaking from experience or anything.

Anyway, Jerry's experience at Texas A&M is much like my mid-90s experience in the fire training center parking lot except that his dad isn't there, so he is perhaps being a bit more polite than I was by hour eleventy-billion of my special driving day with Battalion Chief Nolan.

Jerry gets himself outfitted in bunkers and an air tank, then notes that in real life, firefighters have to get all that heavy gear on in under a minute.

"I would have failed," he says.

"Well -- that's absolutely right. You absolutely would have failed," his host says, using a tone of voice one might usually reserve for pointing out to one's teenage daughter that she's just barely managed to nudge a Ford Bronco into a parking spot designed to fit an oversized rescue vehicle.

Jerry gets to run through "the consumption course," an obstacle course that helps firefighters learn how to control their air management, then learns how to fight a fire in a maritime setting during a test run (with actual flames) on a grounded World War II Liberty ship.

"I'm not really trained for this," Jerry says when told he'll be standing in the middle of a fire.

But our man Jerry, good sport that he is, performs admirably. When he gets out, the adrenaline is pumping, and Jerry gives one of the most epic, manic interviews I've ever seen on reality TV, complete with explosion sound effects. It is far too short a speech. Sadly, there does not appear to be an uncut version of his interview on, so I may have to try to make friends with someone at the production company, because I would really like to see the raw footage. I'm willing to bet it's -- say it with me -- amazing.

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