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

Cover down, pray through: Bob Dylan's underrated, misunderstood "gospel years" are meticulously examined in this welcome new installment of his Bootleg series.

"How long can I listen to the lies of prejudice?
How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness?"
-- Bob Dylan, "When He Returns," 1979

Bob Dylan's career has been full of unpredictable left turns that have left fans confused, enthralled, enraged – sometimes all at once. At the 1965 Newport Folk Festival – accompanied by a pickup band featuring Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper – he performed his first electric set, upsetting his folk base. His 1970 album Self Portrait is full of jazzy crooning and head-scratching covers. In 1978, his self-directed, four-hour film Renaldo and Clara was released, combining concert footage with surreal, often tedious dramatic scenes. Dylan seemed to thrive on testing the patience of his fans.

Keep reading... Show less
9
TV

Inane Political Discourse, or, Alan Partridge's Parody Politics

Publicity photo of Steve Coogan courtesy of Sky Consumer Comms

That the political class now finds itself relegated to accidental Alan Partridge territory along the with rest of the twits and twats that comprise English popular culture is meaningful, to say the least.

"I evolve, I don't…revolve."
-- Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

Keep reading... Show less

The show is called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend largely because it spends time dismantling the structure that finds it easier to write women off as "crazy" than to offer them help or understanding.

In the latest episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the CW networks' highly acclaimed musical drama, the shows protagonist, Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom), is at an all time low. Within the course of five episodes she has been left at the altar, cruelly lashed out at her friends, abandoned a promising new relationship, walked out of her job, had her murky mental health history exposed, slept with her ex boyfriend's ill father, and been forced to retreat to her notoriously prickly mother's (Tovah Feldshuh) uncaring guardianship. It's to the show's credit that none of this feels remotely ridiculous or emotionally manipulative.

Keep reading... Show less
9

If space is time—and space is literally time in the comics form—the world of the novel is a temporal cage. Manuele Fior pushes at the formal qualities of that cage to tell his story.

Manuele Fior's 5,000 Km Per Second was originally published in 2009 and, after winning the Angouléme and Lucca comics festivals awards in 2010 and 2011, was translated and published in English for the first time in 2016. As suggested by its title, the graphic novel explores the effects of distance across continents and decades. Its love triangle begins when the teenaged Piero and his best friend Nicola ogle Lucia as she moves into an apartment across the street and concludes 20 estranged years later on that same street. The intervening years include multiple heartbreaks and the one second phone delay Lucia in Norway and Piero in Egypt experience as they speak while 5,000 kilometers apart.

Keep reading... Show less
7

Featuring a shining collaboration with Terry Riley, the Del Sol String Quartet have produced an excellent new music recording during their 25 years as an ensemble.

Dark Queen Mantra, both the composition and the album itself, represent a collaboration between the Del Sol String Quartet and legendary composer Terry Riley. Now in their 25th year, Del Sol have consistently championed modern music through their extensive recordings (11 to date), community and educational outreach efforts, and performances stretching from concert halls and the Library of Congress to San Francisco dance clubs. Riley, a defining figure of minimalist music, has continually infused his compositions with elements of jazz and traditional Indian elements such as raga melodies and rhythms. Featuring two contributions from Riley, as well as one from former Riley collaborator Stefano Scodanibbio, Dark Queen Mantra continues Del Sol's objective of exploring new avenues for the string quartet format.

Keep reading... Show less
9
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

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

rating-image