“Crash Course”
Wednesdays at 9 p.m.
ABC
3 out of 5 stars

Everybody knows there’s only one real reason to watch NASCAR: the crashes. Without them, there would be very little entertainment in watching cars drive counterclockwise around the same track 200 times. People root for drivers simply because hours of race-watching yield only seconds of crashes. And after investing so much time in a hobby, it would be a shame not to develop personal attachments to your favorite racers via seeing them at their most automotively desparate.

To alleviate the long bore that is the sport of NASCAR, ABC has developed “Crash Course,” a new game show focusing only on the best — and most destructive — parts of racing.

The show chronicles five two-man teams as they take turns competing in dangerous stunts for $50,000 and the coveted Gold Steering Wheel. For each challenge, the team who doesn’t complete the obstacle or takes the longest to finish is eliminated, and the last team remaining wins. It sounds simple enough. But when the stunts involve driving a car onto a moving flatbed truck full of barrels, they often result in flipped vehicles and require the use of a fire extinguisher or two.

The relationships between team members include everything from siblings to roommates to married couples to best friends. Each person is loud, excited and perfect for a TV game show. Because everyone is so outrageous, it’s easy to mock the contestants. Rooting for someone is only a matter of choosing between the most and least obnoxious teams.

Of course, by picking such colorful contestants, “Crash Course” runs the risk of becoming more annoying than amusing. The show prides itself on focusing on the people behind the wheel, but without some restraint the show could lose track of itself and become nothing more than another cheap reality show. For now, the show’s competitors are fashioned after those on “The Price is Right,” but it won’t take much for a “Flavor of Love” attitude to take over.

The art of being a game show host has somewhat diminished over the years as game shows have shifted into reality programming. But the hosts of “Crash Course” are refreshing and talented. Dan Cortese (“What I Like About You”) and Orlando Jones (“Drumline”) have no reservations about ridiculing the contestants, often saying exactly what those at home must be thinking. Their painfully honest style of hosting is hilarious and they work well as a team.

While the subjects on “Crash Course” are fun to watch, the show’s gimmick — cars getting wrecked by average Joes — is why people should (and will) tune in. Unfortunately, of the four obstacles per show, only one each episode has been anything remotely dangerous (read: totally kickass). The final course is exactly the same on each episode and the finale is extremely anticlimactic. And though the show’s running time of one hour is way less than those never-ending NASCAR races, it still feels a little too long for too few crashes.

“Crash Course” is great to watch for an episode or two. The contestants are eccentric, the hosts unabashed and the crashes satisfying. The producers ought to introduce more dangerous stunts and continue to carefully select the competitors in order to make “Crash Course” something worth watching on a regular basis. But really, if you can sit through NASCAR, you can sit through anything.

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