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Please note that the following review concerns only the centerpiece documentary “Addiction,” which is part HBO’s multi-faceted, multi-day “The Addiction Project.”

Let it be said that “The Addiction Project,” HBO’s multi-platform effort to educate the general public about the disease of addiction (it kicks off tonight at 9 p.m. ET), is an important and valiant effort. Important because it demonstrates the power and potential of multimedia–the ability to deliver a message not just through the documentary “Addiction” (airing tonight), but also through a supplemental series, additional documentaries, web-based resources, and live community outreach meetings. Valiant because while at times very affecting, “Addiction” mostly falls flat.

Remember HBO’s slogan, “It’s not television, it’s HBO?” I wish the producers of this film-length documentary did. Featuring the work of nine award-winning directors, “Addiction” tells the stories of drug and alcohol addicts and highlights advancements in treating addiction. Each segment is short–no more than ten to fifteen minutes long–and is intercut with interviews of leading treatment specialists. But what they produce, though interesting, is hardly HBO-type material.

The first vignette, “Saturday Night in a Dallas ER,” is an close look at the gory results of inebriation. It would have been far more shocking fifteen years ago when audiences weren’t used to shows such as “Untold Stories of the ER.” But unlike in those shows, “Addiction” shows the actual death of a patient impaired by marijuana.

Another grave story becomes the most stunning moment of this vignette: A bleary-eyed birthday boy (who has consumed more than 20 shots of Jim Beam) leans over the edge of his gurney, looks into the camera, explains that his girlfriend has been using drugs for a long time, and says without a hint of irony, “Baby, I wish you would quit.”

Other parts of the documentary feature a mother who has been struggling with her daughter’s drug abuse, heroin addicts looking to recover, new treatments for addiction, and even an in depth look at the neurological effects and evolutionary development of addiction.

While all fascinating stories in their own right, they aren’t exactly vintage HBO. One might as well be watching Discovery Health. In fact, MTV’s True Life series, which presented an extremely disturbing look at teenage drug addiction by following the lives of three addicts, was far more affecting. For those whose lives haven’t been touched by addiction (other than following movie stars in and out of rehab), seeing real teens preening their unwashed, greasy hair and trying to cover canker sore lips so they can go turn tricks for meth is a real wake-up call.

HBO should be able to take it one step further; this is the same company that produced the provocative and profound “Hookers at the Point,” an expose of the vicious drug and prostitution cycle at Hunts Point in the Bronx. Sure, “The Addiction Project” is supposed to educate the audience about the state of addiction in America and not “scare anyone straight.” But somehow the devastation of addiction isn’t visceral. The film feels sanitized–until close to the end when we meet the Steamfitters Local Union 638.

“Steamfitters Local Union 638,” by Barbara Koppel really lives up to its promise. It is an intimate look at how one union reached out to its hard-drinking membership and created a brotherhood of sobriety. This is a story that hasn’t been told before in the cliched universe of addiction tales. This is no after school special. These are men’s men who don’t readily talk about their feelings. But when they do, it’s a beautiful thing, expletive after expletive spilling forth.

This is the type of programming HBO excels at: original, provocative, and a bit profane. Hopefully the rest of the project will live up to Ms. Koppel’s story.

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