- History Channel
By Joe Reinhard, For the Daily
Published October 28, 2013
Like much of reality TV, The History Channel’s “American Daredevils” doesn’t try to make itself into a work of art. It’s there to entertain, and on paper, the premise of a group of daredevils performing crazy stunts seems fun enough. With that said, the show doesn’t seem to capture the premise’s potential, and while it doesn’t try to be compelling, it doesn’t exactly succeed in being entertaining, either.
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The show follows four daredevils, all underdogs of some sort. Spanky Spangler, the most famous and successful of the bunch, finds himself facing the end of his career but doesn’t let his age slow him down. His son, Bryan, wants to fulfill the family tradition and follow in his father’s footsteps. Mr. Dizzy is characterized by his ambition, eager to leave a legacy behind, while Dr. Danger finds himself unsatisfied with his stagnant career and wants to make some changes.
On the surface, all these people have problems that are remotely relatable. Unfortunately, the premiere fails to give them any significant depth. Their simplicity, instead of adding toward any sense of likeability or personality, just makes the show appear more fake than it probably already is. At the very least, the contrived confessionals do little to dispel the stereotype that reality TV isn’t very reflective of reality. For other reality TV programs, this could be forgivable if the results were entertaining, but for now, the apparent fakeness is kind of a problem considering the show’s main themes center on wholesome family values and American patriotism.
The more informative elements of the show share in this shallowness. Each stunt has some mathematical factor to it, whether it be trying to find the right speed to land a car jump or figuring out the physics behind surviving a high fall. The premiere doesn’t ignore the math side to the stunts completely, but when it does work with math, it keeps things rather simplified, appealing to the lowest common denominator. That isn’t to say the calculations should be as in-depth as possible, but it’s clear the show held back for the sake of a greater mass appeal. Anyone looking to learn more about the technical side of being a daredevil will be disappointed, because the show shies away from any detailed insight.
The same can be said when “Daredevils” touches on the profession’s history. Stunt performing has faded in appeal over the decades and become more of a niche form of entertainment, but the show doesn’t explore this development to any great degree, and when it does, it’s mostly for the purposes of romanticizing the profession instead of actually trying to be informative. Evel Knievel is the most referenced daredevil icon in the premiere, a sort of ideal stuntman every daredevil tries to live up to and surpass. Beyond this admiration, however, and a few tidbits about Knievel’s most famous stunt, the show spends little time on any historical relevance there may be on the subject. Perhaps this is enough to earn the show’s place on The History Channel (well, probably not), but it certainly doesn’t help raise the show above its otherwise mediocre quality.
The show’s few redeeming features reside in how it creates stakes and builds suspense, but that’s sort of a given based on its premise. Beyond that, the premiere makes it difficult to recommend “American Daredevils,” unless one has a particular interest or passion in the subject matter.