BY ERIC CHIU
For the Daily
Published February 1, 2009
“One Way Out”
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3 out of 5 Stars
When historians look back on present-day American pop culture, they’re likely to pick up on one thing quickly. Never mind the countless shows about misanthropic savants and fornicating doctors and how they say something insightful about American culture — people just enjoyed seeing other people do stupid things on television. It’s from this collective interest that Discovery Channel’s latest show, “One Way Out,” emerges.
“One Way Out” follows British escape artist Jonathan Goodwin as he attempts to escape from various contraptions. If that sounds high-concept, rest assured that the execution isn’t. Still, the show’s ability to push the envelope in ways only basic cable shows can, along with Goodwin’s charisma as a host, makes for watchable television.
Episodes loosely revolve around testing theories, with Goodwin and his collaborators performing various small-scale stunts that lead up to large-scale escapes. But basically the premises of the show are excuses to put Goodwin into progressively more absurd situations.
The premiere opens with Goodwin attempting to pull a scorpion out of his duct-taped mouth while having his hands zip-tied to a table and being repeatedly slapped in the face by his cameraman. Whether or not “One Way Out” sounds appealing probably depends on how strange this all sounds. But the show’s appeal relies largely on the suspense of Goodwin’s performance.
Goodwin is likable enough, so it’s hard to root against him getting out of the pickles into which he puts himself. He garnered just as much fame for successful stunts as botched ones in his native Britain, and the latter failures are generously depicted in the show, which injects a sense of danger into the final stunts.
Unfortunately, “One Way Out” ’s biggest problem is what comes before the major stunts. This minor material is simply unnecessary and rarely hits the creative plateaus and excitement of the big escapes. The smaller bits between each major escape are described as experiments for the episode’s theme, but feel more like rejected “Fear Factor” concepts.
While preparing a cage full of bees, Goodwin lets his cameraman and himself get repeatedly stung by the bees. And in the second episode, the two intentionally get hypothermia. There’s an exhibitionist vein running through these segments — but they’re considerably less fun without the grand scale of the larger escapes. Watching Goodwin escape from a dumpster filled with ice water that is covered with a sheet of ice several inches thick is unarguably entertaining, but watching him get stung in the nipple by a bee feels more voyeuristic than enjoyable.
Still, solid execution forgives much and “One Way Out” manages to make the most of its admittedly simple premise. Even if the abuse it inflicts on Goodwin skirts into a poor man’s “Jackass” territory at times, the escape artist’s gusto and the show’s taste for absurdly escalating danger make for some compelling, if wince-worthy, television.