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TV Review: Hoarders – “Augustine”

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Hoarding, according to A&E’s docu-series Hoarders, is “a mental disorder marked by an obsessive need to collect things, even if the items are worthless, hazardous or unsanitary.” Hoarders takes a look at those people who have so completely let themselves and their living standards go that their houses are glorified junkyards, each room its own little cesspool. This is the kind of show that seems, with each new episode, to top itself in terms of horror, disgust, and drama. So time may prove me wrong, but Augustine, the sole focus of the series’ second season premiere (up to now, every episode has been split between two subjects), has got to be the worst hoarder they’ve ever had.

A “God Bless This Mess” sign hanging from anyone else’s house might be a cutesy triviality, but hanging from Augustine’s, it’s like some sort of grand ironic gesture. According to a “hoarding psychologist,” Augustine is a Category 5 hoarder, and the inside of her house looks like it’s been ravaged by a Category 5 hurricane. The junk and clutter are so apocalyptic it’s hard to believe the house is capable of sustaining human life.

From portraits that are shown from the 1950s and 1960s, we can tell that Augustine was once very pretty, but that’s a thing of the past. The elaborate hairdos and make-up have eroded entirely, and now Augustine is old and in poor health. She has two children, now adults, Susan and Jason. Fourteen years ago, when Jason was 14 years old, their living environment was so unfit that Child Protective Services were forced to remove him from the house and place him in the grown-up Susan’s custody. Jason has grown up resentful and ashamed, claiming that he no longer has any emotional attachment to his mother, only a moral obligation to make sure that her house isn’t condemned by the local government.

Susan is a different story. She performs Herculean feats of effort to help her mother, but Augustine simply isn’t willing to accept them, and is convinced that Susan doesn’t love her. Augustine has allowed 8,000 pounds of garbage to accumulate inside her house — 8,000 pounds! — yet remains convinced that it couldn’t possibly be her fault. At one point, Susan says that she and Jason were raised by two different people: Susan by the loving, normal Augustine, and Jason by the vindictive, crazed Augustine.

The reunion of these three is rife with drama. Augustine remains convinced that the only reason Jason won’t come back home is because she doesn’t have air conditioning. Jason in turn is stunned to learn that the house has gotten even worse since he lived there; there hasn’t been any water for six years. Susan is anguished by her love for both of them, and what their relationship has been reduced to. By the time the cleaning crew arrives, you can’t imagine them clearing out the house in the three days allotted.

Of course they try, and the results are predictably horrifying. Augustine informs the crew that she lost a pair of dentures some years back, and if they find them, she’d like them back. The bathroom is a wasteland, and it isn’t until one saintly crew member reluctantly agrees to clean it that anyone dares venture inside. Most disturbing of all, the bodies of several dead cats are found amid the debris. Augustine is a self-proclaimed animal lover (she compares Jason leaving to the loss of one of her dogs), but how could that be when there are dead cats littering her house? She doesn’t even know how they got there. And, fair warning, we get a pretty clear picture of the dead cats, whose skeletons look fossilized. This is not a show to watch while eating dinner.

Hoarders focuses on inherently fascinating subject matter, and would be quite powerful if, say, someone like Errol Morris or Crumb-era Terry Zwigoff were behind the camera. As it is, the show suffers from typical TV ordinariness, with dramatic push-ins and blaring music cues underscoring every shocking beat, trying to manipulate us with a force that simply isn’t necessary.

Which is the same as it was with Hoarders’ first season. Fascinating, emotionally potent subjects diluted by a little too much TV magic.

Hoarders returns Monday, November 30, at 10:00 PM EST on A&E.

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About Arlo J. Wiley

  • My biggest issue is that the show rarely tries to get them any real help. When they did this on Obsessed, they sent in a psychologist. Here they usually send in an organizer. That doesn’t help the condition itself, it just cleans things up. Once the camera is off, the problem begins anew.

  • missy

    Augustine is such a horrid, ungreatful person.I really wish the people that she treats so badly that keep helping her would stop and she would become homeless and die alone,cold on the street in her own filth she created and by filth i dont just mean literally…

  • April

    Augustine was by far, the least sympathetic profle so far. She’s so full of self-pity, I actually felt quite angry at her.

  • Disgusted

    This episode just strengthens my opinion that hoarders should be involuntarily committed and forbidden from keeping any personal belongings.

  • Shiner

    Whatever its production failings (and I don’t think they are obvious to the casual observer), this show remains one of the more interesting programs on TV. Compared to the fake “reality” shows and overbearing pundits or celeb wannabes that litter the airwaves, this is a breath of fresh air.

    I’ve only seen a handful of episodes, but they do sometimes bring a therapist in. And maybe they regularly offer counseling, who knows? But if the person doesn’t want to accept it, you can’t make them.

    • Who are you… Your No better

      They always bring a therapist. That is the whole point of the show is to get to the root of the problem, which is NOT laziness. Maybe some case can fall into that category but ppl with true compulsive disorders is not due to laziness and they are actually very able and fit, that do get out daily. People need to stop being so judgmental of other peoples living. as you are not in their head nor understand what they go through daily.You should be ashamed of yourself to think you are God or for that matter better than God casting stones as you are. 🙁

  • Linda

    Some of the previous comments have been pretty harsh. People fail to realize that this is a mental illness and needs professional treatment. You only need to look at Augustine’s face to see that she has totally disconnected from reality. However, very often, you cannot legally force someone to get the help they need. Childhood trauma can remain dormant for decades and then seem to suddenly take over. I feel so sorry for her daughter because she remembers what her mother used to be like and knows there’s nothing she can do to help her now. If you hadn’t guessed by now, I was raised by someone who gradually became a bitter, angry hoarder. It destroys relationships. I began to believe that she cared more about the things than she did about me. Only later did I realize that she literally had no control. I had to deal with the debris after she passed away.
    Once a year I go through my house and if I haven’t used an item in the past year, it goes to charity or the trash.

  • Scott Davis

    Not since ‘To Catch a Predator’ has the viewing public been served up such a lush exploitation of tragic lives for their viewing pleasure. Therapists make their obligatory appearance to give the illusion that something life changing is happening, but the real guts of the show lay somewhere in Carnival land, where people pay to see geeks bite the heads off of chickens. These people have extremely serious mental conditions and are put on public display so that people can cluck their tongues and revel in the fact that they are not the people on the show.

    Shame on A&E for broadcasting this filth. There is nothing entertaining, enlightening or uplifting about this series, unless of course you are 1-800-GOT-JUNK and get free advertising every week.

    So unlike ‘To Catch A Predator’, they don’t lure unsuspecting pedophiles into being arrested for our viewing pleasure, instead they let the children of these very unfortunate mentally ill people call the show to have them ‘help’ their parent by publicly humiliating them and renting 1-800-GOT-JUNK to come shovel out their homes.

    This kind of problem is not TV entertainment, it’s real life tragedy and quite simply, none of our business. Does anyone think that these poor sick people are in any kind of mental state to sign off on being on a TV show? I hope one of these people does get some serious help, recovers and then sues A&E for every dime they ever made off of this show.

    Exploitation of the mentally ill is disgusting.


  • Monica

    So, Scott Davis, it’s better that these people wallow in their filth rather than get *FREE* help in exchange for being on TV?

    Of course A&E benefits from the ratings, but in some of these cases (like Augustine’s) their relations are in no financial position to hire people to clean out 8000 lbs of toxic trash before they lose the house.

  • Freedom

    Yes, I too, find it absurd that anyone has a problem with a show that educates and exposes the public to a common disorder/disease. The fact that a show makes you uncomfortable is not a reason to judge it so harshly. Just don’t watch it. Allow the rest of us to continue to gain knowledge and perspective while you stay away from discomfort/stress.

    Shame on those who are too distracted by their own emotions to appreciate a network and program that has the guts to take on what most of society prefers to ignore. Here’s hoping for several more seasons of Hoarders.

  • S&P

    There’s no exploitation here. This isn’t guerilla filmmaking…people signed the dotted line. Get over it.

  • Amanda

    Im sorry, I just couldn’t get over the dead cats, I cried my self to sleep.

  • Janie

    This is one show that ‘stays with you’ – I’m amazed that health officials didn’t order a clean up of that house years ago, although I don’t know what the legal implications are there! I’ve read about cases in Canada, where the houses are condemmed and demolished when similar things occur.
    I felt the most empathy for Jason, as he appears to have been the one most affected (long term) by his mother’s mental illness.
    Although it is impossible to force someone to be hospitalized, it seems to me that Augustine would be much better off in a psychiatric ward where she could be cared for. Although her daughter is loyal and caring, she is ‘up against a brick wall’.

  • jk

    there should be a psych eval done and at some point the person should got committed for a forced treatment. regardless of how some of you idiots that say oh they just need to get some help think. this is a condition that can and does kill people. and the kids that live in this filth get sick and have problems for the rest of there lives. there the ones that need to be protected and personally i would rather slap the hell out of half of these people on tv that live in the trash rather than look at them. too many use this as a excise to be lazy and not clean. saving personal things is one thing but to have trash piled up from the floor 5 and 6 feet tall. you cant tell me that the empty little debbie wrappers are of value to them. thats total BS and no one believes you. that is nothing more than your fat ass didnt wanna get up off the couch and throw it in a trash can and then have to take it to the curb to dispose of it. so tell me again how hoarding is not lazy. my grandmother had a house full of stuff and had paths that would go to each room but let me tell you there were no bugs and no trash anywhere. when we cleaned the house to sell it for her there were no floors that were rotted away and no dead rats any where. it was just more stuff than she had room to take care of and it started after my grandfather died so i have seen what the hoarding is like. so there is a difference from the truth and what is on tv so dont be fooled.

  • sarah

    this is so dumb. i thought hoarders are actually hoarding things they want.. augustine just sits there and has zero emotions to the things being shoveled away… its hard to think these people are not lazy then! i’ve also seen a different hoarder episode where a lady is making a frozen meal.. she opens the box and literally flings it to the ground.. how is that hoarding??? THAT IS LAZINESS!

  • Jayeed

    It’s not just a mental illness, it’s something that a person like Augustine just doesn’t understand. The empathy for your children’s feelings and a desire to keep a physically clean home (amid all the tv commercials for Lysol, mops, deodorant) doesn’t affect people like Augustine.

    Unless you understand the mind of these people, you will be angry with them. They are sad indeed and need true help.

    If the person is committed to change and continues to do so, then they have attained the cleanliness they need to survive. If they fight every way against being clean, then it’s the way they want it.

    And sometimes, you have to leave them in their own filth.

  • Andrea

    These people have severe mental problems. If you can live in filth like this and not see it as a problem- how can something not be very,very wrong- total detachment from reality?

  • bargearse

    Hoarders by definition are people to compile objects and find it hard to part with them. They assign identities to their belongings and become emotionally attached which makes things harder. The subjects featured on ‘Hoarders’ have certain hoarding characteristics, but they are not really hoarders in my opinion. They are lazy, selfish, slovenly people who don’t give a stuff about cleaning. You can be a hoarder and still be able to use your bathroom, cook in your kitchen and sleep in a bed.

    It seems that many of the worst offenders in this series are poor, old obese women with health issues who live on their own and rely on cats to keep them company. They don’t appear to have the inclination to get things like the toilet fixed when it’s broken or keep up with the laundry and dirty dishes. It’s laziness mainly and a lack of priorities. Obviously they have some income and a way to get to the shops because based on their size, they don’t appear to be going without food. I just think they don’t mind living in squalor and feel that if it’s good enough for them, no one else should have a problem with it.

  • Pam Smith

    I think that “Hoarders” is a very valuable show, as it’s a wake up call to hoarders and their families. When my father died who was a hoarder, friends told me to watch/call the show for advice on how to clean up the toxic mess and I am very grateful. Thank you “Hoarders”.

  • April

    My heart really broke for Augustine and her children. I wonder how they are doing and worried they couldn’t afford to fix all the things that needed fixing in the home. I wish the show helped with those things too.

    ALso, I feel that not all hoarding is as simple as having a compulsive disorder.
    It takes a poor single parent, like me,to understand Augustine’s situation.

    I know how exhausting it is to slave away as a single working mom, supporting yourself without any help from the childrens’ father, being too poor to afford to fix or buy things. You see Augustine now, but in her photos with her hair and makeup done so nicely, she probably was that “working mother”

    My daughters criticized me their whole lives for me not “just calling the plumber” or “buying a new refrigerator” or “buying nice clothes”, and “not throwing things out” when they break, hoping to fix them.

    They didn’t understand that to live the way they see in magazines and TV or “like other children” would have cost far more than I could afford on my low wage not having much formal education since I got pregnant at 16.

    “The neighbors” have husbands/two paychecks and sets of arms to share the work around the house and the cost.

    My daughters think it’s disgusting that I salvage things that others discard, but I am proud of my finds and furnished our whole house that way, as otherwise I could not afford for us to have those things.

    I used to be able to mkae my much needed extra income from having “garage sales” and selling some of the things I found.

    Not wanting to throw things out also stems from me not feeling confident in myself (that I will be capable of buying those things when I eventually need them.

    My mother criticizing me my whole life probably contributed to that insecurity, as well as the abandonment of the childrens’ father.

    Aside from that, being too poor to furnish a whole house at once, (like newlyweds), means that you have things you get here and there and nothing matches or goes together, so you are always trying to “make itall work” much like finding all the pieces to the puzzle.

    Your whole life you try to piece everything together to make a normal furnished home, but it never really happens and then you just get overwhelmed and “give up”.

    When people throw your things out, you become depressed and have to appear to not care (numb yourself) to deal with it. Eventually, you forget the items and don’t miss them, but each time you numb yourself more and more until you don’t care at all.

    There is a difference between your house getting cluttered due to compulsive buying and how the poverty of being a single parent wears on you. I bet if someone goes back in time they can trace something that happened to Augustine.