Review: ‘Stars Earn Stripes’ on NBC is at least for a good cause

Operatives from the military and civilian law enforcement join celebrities in "Stars Earn Stripes."
(Chris Haston, NBC)

“Stars Earn Stripes,” which begins Monday on NBC for a four-week run that will get it out of the way in time for the fall TV season, is a military-themed reality show from executive producers Dick Wolf (“Law & Order”), Mark Burnett (“Survivor”) and David A. Hurwitz (“Fear Factor”). Its co-hosts are former NATO commander Gen. Wesley Clark (Ret.) and former “Dancing With the Stars” presenter Samantha Harris (ret.). Does a picture begin to emerge?

Eight celebrities — actors Dean Cain and (NFL-bred) Terry Crews, “WWE diva” Eve Torres, singer Nick Lachey (“Nothing prepares you for battle like a boy band”), boxer Leila Ali, Olympic gold-medal skier Picabo Street, “Biggest Loser” trainer Dolvett Quince and “four-time Iron Dog champion” Todd Palin (joining what has become the family business) — are paired, for purposes of training and game play, with skilled operatives with backgrounds in the armed services and civilian law enforcement, every last man jack of them a pinup waiting to happen. (And every last man jack of them a man.)

“I’m going to take Nick Lachey, guy in the boy band,” says Lachey’s training partner (NBC has requested the name be withheld as though it were a spoiler), “and turn him into Nick Lachey, bad boy guy with a gun.”

Together they will participate in “missions reminiscent of counterinsurgencies that have taken place all over the world,” replete with “real bullets” and “real danger.” There is danger, to be sure, but it is a relative sort of danger, as there will always be when people jump out of helicopters or there are explosions triggered around them. But no one is actually trying to kill the celebrities and they will not have to kill anybody else. (They can “die” within the context of the game, however.)


So, when football-pro-turned-actor Terry Crews says, “I’m so looking forward to taking on a real mission with real weapons and real ammunition,” he is right about the weapons and the ammunition, but he is on a real mission only in the way that is the mission of a Candy Land player to make it through the Gumdrop Mountains and Molasses Swamp to reach the Candy Castle. It’s like a highly demanding form of paintball, or rock ‘n’ roll fantasy camp with a competition narrative laced on.

I don’t mean to say it isn’t hard; the point is that it’s hard. (For the celebrities at least: “This is like recess for me,” says former Green Beret Grady Powell.) The first challenge involves jumping from a helicopter, swimming to a raft, shooting at things, crawling under barbed wire, carrying something heavy through mud, kicking down a door and blowing up a shack. The fastest team wins; the slowest two slug it out in an elimination round. Prize money goes to charities that serve veterans and first responders. So, whatever else you make of it — and it’s enough to say that if you like this sort of thing, you will like this thing — it’s all, or partly, for a good cause.


‘Stars Earn Stripes’

Where: NBC

When: 8 p.m. Monday

Rating: TV-PG-LV (may be unsuitable for young children with advisories for coarse language and violence)