There's no punch in MTV's 'Bully Beatdown'

BY ERIC CHIU
Daily Arts Writer
Published March 30, 2009

“Bully Beatdown”
Sundays at 9:30 p.m.
MTV

2 out of 5 stars

A lot of MTV's current programming relies on camp appeal. Be it Tim Curry (“The Rocky Horror Picture Show”) in drag or Tommy Wiseau’s faux-Austrian accent mangling his lines in “The Room,” affixing camp to something can elevate stupidity toward greatness. Of course, there’s also something to be said for bypassing this process completely and reveling in unbridled stupidity.

The newest addition to MTV's lineup, “Bully Beatdown,” does just that.

The premise is appropriately straightforward. Host and mixed martial arts fighter Jason “Mayhem” Miller meets with a victim each week and challenges their bully — an oversized younger brother in the pilot, an obnoxious roommate in the second episode — to a two-round fight with a trained MMA fighter. In each round, the bully can earn a possible $10,000 for surviving. But losing rounds causes money to be deducted, all of which goes to the bully’s victims.

With the banal, hyper-machismo presence of Miller — who voluntarily takes a padded punch to the head accompanied by a heavy metal soundtrack to accentuate every other sequence — the show practically oozes pure, unadulterated manliness. To the show’s credit, it takes time to build something resembling a narrative. Each episode opens with the victim’s story and follows the buildup to the fight, going from the bully training to the bout itself. "Beatdown" never really establishes context, though, moving from sequence to sequence without approaching anything close to insight about the bully and his victims.

The main purpose for all this exposition is to establish that the bully deserves to be pummeled in the ring. Even if it’s done with a straw-man-like approach — the bully and his talking-head anecdotes are all cherry-picked to make him seem as obnoxious as possible — it works well with the show’s “just deserts” mentality.

The show basically boils down to watching these bullies get the tar beaten out of them by people far more competent than they are, and on this point, it’s unbelievably successful. The trained fighters aren’t so much people as they’re vaguely human-shaped masses of muscle. Despite its lowbrow nature, watching the fighters instill a sense of humility into the bullies via a roundhouse kick to the chest is satisfying — albeit in a shooting-fish-in-a-barrel sort of way.

Still, taking the time to think about “Bully Beatdown” makes it harder to forgive its obvious faults. There’s something inherently unpleasant about a show that encourages conflict resolution via flailing people around like meat in a butcher shop. This problem isn’t alleviated by the show’s casting choices either. When Alan, the victim in the pilot, talks about his brother’s casual fondness for knocking him out and putting his head through walls, it’s hard not to wonder if there weren’t better ways for the brothers to work through their unresolved issues besides putting the bully up to be emasculated on national TV.

As a whole, though, “Bully Beatdown” manages to make the most of its wish-fulfillment premise, providing the opportunity to watch mixed martial arts fighters physically thrash dumb people. The problem is, anything approaching critical thinking doesn’t really have a place in the show’s testosterone-infused universe, which makes “Bully Beatdown” an entertaining, if ultimately stupid show.