TV

'The Great Escape': TNT's First Reality Show

With a show about breaking out of prisons, the producers pretty much had to start (or, alternately, finish) with Alcatraz, the most famous prison setting in North America.


The Great Escape

Airtime: Sundays, 10pm ET
Cast: Rich Eisen (host)
Subtitle: Series Premiere
Network: TNT
Airdate: 2012-06-24
Website
Trailer
Amazon

The Great Escape is TNT's first foray into reality show territory. It has impressive credentials from the get-go, with major Hollywood names Ron Howard and Brian Grazer producing alongside The Amazing Race masterminds Bertram van Munster and Elise Doganieri. It also has a simple, easily explained premise. Three teams will be locked in a prison-like setting, and the first team to escape and find host Rich Eisen at the finish line will win $100,000.

It sounds like a can't-miss premise, but the show's first episode proves that pulling it off is more difficult than it sounds. Prison escapes have been great fodder for drama for decades, an easy way to ratchet up tension, because the viewer (or reader) never really knows for sure how it's going to turn out. The stakes are always high for a dramatic escape attempt... unless it's a reality show that has contractual clauses for the escapees.

In a word, nothing is at stake on The Great Escape. Sure, the teams all want that $100,000 prize money, but their lives don't depend on it. When the competition ends, they're all going back home, none the worse for wear. They aren't facing the wrath of vengeful guards, or a lifelong prison sentence, or the death penalty. They're not even facing particularly harsh weather. It turns out that without that tension, this show has more in common with, say, a kids' show like Legends of the Hidden Temple than an adventure-based series like The Amazing Race. This is a game show dressed up in adventure show clothing.

That clothing is what you expect. With a show about breaking out of prisons, the producers pretty much had to start (or, alternately, finish) with Alcatraz, the most famous prison setting in North America. Three color-coordinated teams are transported blindfolded to the island and unmasked in the cell block. Eisen welcomes them and lays out the rules of the game. Each team starts in a cell and must find a map and a key to let themselves out. Once they're out, the game is divided into four more stages. The teams must complete the stages in order, completing a task in each one and in the process assembling "The Great Escape Key," which they'll turn over to Eisen at the finish line.

To make their challenges more difficult, the contestants are aware of guards patrolling the grounds, and if a team is spotted, they're returned to their cells, where they must find another hidden key, break out again, and then pick up where they left off. In the first episode, at least, the guards are only found between the stages, so that once a team is working on a task, they won't be bothered. This allows the teams some breathing room, but it's also less dramatic for us, since we know they'll be safe until they finish the task.

The tasks in the episode range from free-form to strictly regimented and from familiar to -- if not exactly surprising, then at least not-so-familiar. It's great fun to watch the teams tear apart their prison cells to find the keys, and even more fun when they have to return to their cells and sift through the destruction for a second key. It's also entertaining to watch the teams trying to open a lockbox when they have a wide variety of tools from which to choose. Less exciting are the "grab this bag with a magnet" and the "move this pile of heavy things out of the way" challenges.

At Alcatraz, there's a lot of area for teams to cover between the various stages, when the guards come into play. This adds an element of uncertainty to the game. When a leading team can be knocked back to the start by poor timing or a lack of concentration, it keeps the ultimate outcome up in the air, theoretically. The first episode actually undoes that uncertainty rather early. Again, the stakes are reduced.

In between the action scenes, people talk. Eisen does his best to give his voiceovers a level of gravitas that lets the viewers know this is Serious Business. And the team members explain why they're here: engaged couple Brittany and Gabe want to pay for their wedding while Lexx mentions he's "$15 or 16,000 in debt." Clearly the competition is meaningful for them, but what about the rest of us? With a new set of teams in every episode, there isn't time for us to become invested in the contestants the way we might while watching a season-long, gradual elimination competition.

5

So far J. J. Abrams and Rian Johnson resemble children at play, remaking the films they fell in love with. As an audience, however, we desire a fuller experience.

As recently as the lackluster episodes I-III of the Star Wars saga, the embossed gold logo followed by scrolling prologue text was cause for excitement. In the approach to the release of any of the then new prequel installments, the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare, followed by the Lucas Film logo, teased one's impulsive excitement at a glimpse into the next installment's narrative. Then sat in the movie theatre on the anticipated day of release, the sight and sound of the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare signalled the end of fevered anticipation. Whatever happened to those times? For some of us, is it a product of youth in which age now denies us the ability to lose ourselves within such adolescent pleasure? There's no answer to this question -- only the realisation that this sensation is missing and it has been since the summer of 2005. Star Wars is now a movie to tick off your to-watch list, no longer a spark in the dreary reality of the everyday. The magic has disappeared… Star Wars is spiritually dead.

Keep reading... Show less
6

This has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it.

It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

Keep reading... Show less
Theatre

​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

Keep reading... Show less
10

Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

Keep reading... Show less
7

There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image