Reviews

Ed vs. Spencer

Bill Gibron

As long as the challenge is engaging -- and who doesn't want to see grown men pick pub fights or infect friends with jock itch? -- our peeks behind the scenes are fascinating.


Ed Vs. Spencer

Airtime: Thursdays, 11pm ET
Cast: Ed Leigh, Spencer Claridge
Network: BBC America
Amazon

Competitiveness in men is instinctual and conditioned. No matter that today we often see this need to better one's brother as immature or egotistical. It can also be damn entertaining. Look at professional sports or reality TV. Many frown on such predetermined rivalry, and if they were the magnificent Ed vs. Spencer as a basis for their argument, they'd have a very valid point.

New to the BBC (and now, BBC America), Ed vs. Spencer's premise is fascinatingly fiendish: two best friends come up with insane competitions, the loser facing whatever public humiliation the winner can conceive. More or less a note for note remake of the Canadian classic, Kenny vs. Spenny (even down to the animated opening battle sequences featuring the stars), the show focuses on two blokes belittling themselves for the sake of an enmity that doesn't exist. It is clear that participants Ed Leigh and Spencer Claridge, both ex-professional snowboarders and extreme sports freaks, actually like each other.

But when the game is on, all best bud bets are off. The debut episode offered "Who Can Make Himself the Sickest," with upcoming installments including "Who Can Survive in the Woods Longest" and "Who Can Make the Best Porn." As long as the challenge is engaging -- and who doesn't want to see grown men pick pub fights or infect friends with jock itch? -- our peeks behind the scenes are fascinating.

But there's more to the show than guys slapping each other. Like Jackass or the more upscale Fight Club, Ed vs. Spencer shows men acting out. Required to suppress their testosterone-driven nature by a society that feels compassion is the only proper human emotion, males -- especially those between the ages of 14 to 29 -- have no means of letting off their primordial steam. Shows like this offer a kind of vicarious validation.

It's a sentiment our stars live by all throughout the opening installment. Ed is a slight son of a bitch who will do anything to win. During the "Sickest" episode, he hurls himself down stairwells, drinks large amounts of liquor -- he even sleeps in the park one night -- all to reduce his immune system to a pile of worthless white blood cells. The better built Spencer tries to micromanage his illness, researching how to get athlete's foot, influenza, even dog mange. While Ed is getting his ass kicked by drunken rugby fans, Spencer is off to a snake farm, building up the courage to get bitten in the forearm.

Naturally, none of their attempts works. Spencer's trip to a fetish store for some crotch-soaking rubber pants results in lots of dressing and undressing (the show features much male nudity, including the final streak through the streets of London), but very little flesh fungus. Ed goes to a local skate park in hopes of hobbling himself, but his X-Games background keeps him from gaining the serious injury he seeks. But in truth, it's the accidents that determine the winner.

Such nonsense requires especially winning participants to keep us engaged. Watching someone purposely put axel grease on his back (the better to raise up some nasty acne) requires a hardcore appeal that few individuals possess. The original Kenny and Spenny got away with their inanity because Kenny Hotz played a loveable bastard perfectly, his repeated admonishments of flightier Spencer Rice combining schoolyard razzing and a Tyler Durden pep rally.

Ed vs. Spencer offers a similar dude dichotomy. Ed sticks his nose where it doesn't belong. He's the free spirit, making rash decisions that usually end up in his favor. Spencer has life down to a science, though many of his experiments fail. He wants to beat Ed, if only to keep the self-important schmuck from bragging about his victory for days to come. Regressive or resplendent, their battles are a great deal of fun to watch.

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