NEW YORK – Filmmaker Morgan Spurlock (search) knows a thing or two about torturing himself and those around him to make a point.
"It's definitely a two-way street of misery," he says.
In his 2004 Oscar-nominated documentary "Super Size Me (search)," Spurlock ate only McDonalds meals for a month. Along the way, he freaked out his family, friends and doctors, who watched in horror as his body quickly deteriorated on the fatty diet.
For "30 Days" (search), Spurlock's new series for FX that begins Wednesday night, he uses the same "Super Size Me" approach to harpoon serious issues in America, including the working poor, gay marriage and racial stereotypes.
In each episode, a person from one walk of life tries to spend a month living as the polar opposite: a devout Christian from West Virginia lives as a Muslim in Dearborn, Mich.; a squeaky clean soccer mom becomes a binge drinker; a conservative, former youth minister who says that family values are "under attack" in the U.S. moves in with a gay roommate in San Francisco.
In the first episode, Spurlock and his fiancée, Alex, give up their movie-star lifestyle and try to live earning minimum wage in Columbus, Ohio.
"It suddenly puts a face on a problem that a lot of us just hear about," says Spurlock. "We had no idea how difficult it was going to be for us." They ended up living over a former crackhouse and in debt.
"At the end of the day we got to leave and go home, but there are millions of people who live this way year in and year out," he says.
Spurlock's approach to somewhat grim subjects is to investigate human suffering with humor and irony. The result gives viewers access to serious subjects without being heavy-handed or preachy.
The goal of the show is to bring home important issues, says executive producer R.J. Cutler. "On any given day you can pick up the newspaper, and two or three of the subjects that we tackle are going to be on the front page," he says.