Running Wild w/Bear Grylls – Mondays at 8 Eastern on NBC
The last decade brought two styles of reality television into vogue: shows about people roughing it in exotic and often dangerous locales that seemingly put the star in the face of death on a weekly basis (Survivorman, Man vs. Wild), and shows that took a look into the life of the rich and opulent (see any Bravo show that isn’t Top Chef). Needless to say, in the desperate scramble to come up with some summer television, NBC has elected to mix some roughing it chocolate with what it hopes will be some celebrity peanut butter in order to score a hit with it’s newest show: Running Wild w/ Bear Grylls.
Running Wild w/Bear Grylls is at it’s core about one simple concept: extreme vacationing with A-Listers. With a guest list that includes Zac Efron, Channing Tatum, and Ben Stiller, Grylls ventures around the world finding the ideal spots that will push their given celebrity to the limits. Monday’s premiere begins with Zac Efron traversing New York’s Catskill Mountains (an interesting call if only because when I think Catskills, I think skiing, old comedians, and Dirty Dancing – not life or death survivalism) trying to finish a 2 day course that includes a number of challenges including rappelling, skydiving, and survival.
So how is Running Wild? Well it’s pretty slow. There’s a lack of real tone differentiation between it’s high adventure and downtime moments, causing many of the journey’s legs to bleed together. I found a similar problem with last year’s Get Out Alive, meaning that they didn’t really learn the stylistic lessons of last year’s attempt at the same format. This is a shame, because a 120 rappel, skydiving, and worm omelets are all basically played as humdrum as a walk through the park on a Saturday afternoon. I don’t necessarily ask for excessive dramatics here, but some sense of stakes would be nice.
Oddly enough, the slowness actually contributes to the show’s strongest point: for a guy who’s famous for being stuck in the woods alone, Grylls is a surprisingly good interviewer. If Running Wild was truly meant to be celebrity rehabilitation puff-piece in the wild, then Grylls more than holds up his end of the bargain, coaxing his guests through numerous tasks – (the Catskills become Grylls personal high ropes course) while using the downtime to ask seemingly probing questions that ultimately make that weeks celebrities look better. This distinction becomes night and day when you see Efron’s cutaways, as the cocksure actor in many of the shows cutaways gives way to a more vulnerable soul out in the wild.
The Final Verdict: For the second straight summer I’m reviewing a Bear Grylls reality show, and for the second straight year, the show feels like it’s just there. It’s a true shame because Grylls is a quality TV personality, it’s just that Running Wild makes life-or-death resemble a trip to 7-Eleven. This is the sort of show that typically puts my thumbs firmly in the middle – check it out if you have nothing better to watch on an early Monday or are waiting for American Ninja Warrior.