I suppose it has something to do with summertime, these extreme stunt-challenge contests in which people do physically difficult, psychologically intimidating things in the hope of winning big money. Anyway, they're back.
Two premiere Thursday on TNT: "72 Hours" drops its players into the wilderness (a new wilderness each week) with only the clothes on their back, a GPS system and a bottle of water to spend three days in search of a briefcase full of cash. Shot in Panama, "The Hero" finds Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson shepherding a group of Americans through hair-raising stunts and (what we are to regard as) moral temptations, object: A million dollars, maybe.
Of the two shows, I found "72 Hours" the more enjoyable for its lack of pretense and the speed with which it does its business. (Each episode has a winner by the end.) Nine men and women, mostly in their 20s (if not necessarily in shape) but with the odd middle-aged impressive specimen thrown in, are gathered in a remote, rough and telegenic place across which they must race, over hill, dale, desert, cliff, open sea and/or beach, toward a case containing $100,000.
Randomly organized into teams of three — guaranteeing that, whenever things are going less than well, two of them will be ganging up on the third — they are doing it for the kids, for the folks, to prove something to themselves, to get back on their feet, to change everything. Most seem pretty nice; some are clowns; a few you really hope don't win.
It is not the first show based on the notion that if you push people past their physical limits and restrict their food and water, they will get short with one another and provide good entertainment to the masses. But their relations, examined from moment to moment for the sake of the camera, also shift wildly, and the person you might have hated in Act 1 you might at least tolerate by Act 4, as his teammates have come to accept him, in spite of his dragging them down nearly the whole way. It's teamwork, even if of a hectoring sort, that does it in the end.
Described by host Johnson as "the greatest adventure competition you'll ever get to experience from your couch," "The Hero" has little to do with heroics — at least not in the old sense of self-sacrifice or a brave thing done for someone else's good. The word now seems to mean merely "doing something hard or unpleasant you would rather not do." (Or just doing something hard. Or just doing something.)
Indeed, by framing — that is, being encouraged to frame — everything in epic terms, even players who have acted with a certain heroism back in real life come off as self-regarding and pompous.
The show, which is a sort of absurdly solemn cross between "The Real World," "Fear Factor," a "Mission: Impossible" movie and "America's Got Talent," gathers nine Americans into a Panama penthouse, from which they will regularly emerge to perform hair-raising stunts, which may or may not involve Conquering Their Fear. (Because some people really are not afraid of hanging off buildings hundreds of feet in the air.)
To test their "integrity," they face temptations along the way, opportunities to betray their fellows for money. But whereas "72 Hours" really is about winning by cooperation, "The Hero," contrary to its title, is a me-first competition. It will have but one winner, to be chosen by the viewers. And as one unblinkered contestant confidentially tells the camera, goodness is only a tactic in the game and not an end in itself.
I will say this about both these shows: It is a good time to be in the helicopter business.
When: 8 p.m. Thursday
Rating: TV-PG (may be unsuitable for young children)
When: 9 p.m. Thursday
Rating: TV-14-DLV (may be unsuitable for children under the age of 14 with advisories for suggestive dialogue, coarse language and violence)Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times