Producer Thom Beers has carved out a cable niche around manly men and the dangerous jobs they do (“The Deadliest Catch,” “Ice Road Truckers,” “Black Gold”), so NBC’s new series, “America’s Toughest Jobs,” has a “best of” quality — drawing from those existing programs to create a competition as 13 contestants tackle perilous vocations that Beers knows well, including crab fishing, ice trucking and oil drilling. The heavily promoted hybrid that emerges is a rather obvious attempt to catch and hang onto NBC’s Olympic wave — a challenging if logical-enough strategy for those in the dangerous job of network suit.
“America’s Toughest Jobs” misfires, primarily, due to the fact that the elimination component feels like a tired add-on to the summer-camp-for-adults premise. From the get-go, the show seems ambivalent about its “The Apprentice: Great Outdoors Edition” twist, dispensing with participant introductions or detailed rules regarding its structure. “This is not a gameshow. This is life and death,” we’re told near the outset.
But actually, it is kind of a gameshow — albeit one torn between focusing on the players and highlighting the gritty tasks at hand. The competition is thus approached with, at best, a marginal sense of conviction, as the newbies are quickly whisked off to an Alaskan crab-fishing boat and rendered all but unrecognizable under puffy, brightly colored jackets, their heads peeking out to puke as a result of the choppy seas.
The series does make one smart move, letting the full-time boat skippers or truck drivers — an appropriately surly, colorful lot — judge who’s not making the cut and subject to being booted. But because the participants don’t really establish any personality, there’s little suspense when host Josh Temple gets around to delivering the no-doubt-trademarked dismissal line, “I’m sorry. You weren’t tough enough.”
For those unfamiliar with Beers’ other shows, this medley does offer a glimpse into unheralded but risky ways of grunting out a living. Still, the format in the first two episodes has the look of being cobbled together by committee, and, in terms of living up to Beers’ company logo Original Prods., sorry, but not by a long shot.
Premiering as soon as the Olympic torch flickers out, the show will test whether NBC can sustain any momentum or will tumble back to reality once swimmer Michael Phelps and those little gymnasts disperse. On the plus side, the subject matter uniquely positions “Toughest Jobs” to tap into some of the Summer Games’ male audience that wouldn’t be caught dead watching “Lipstick Jungle.” Nevertheless, if history is any indicator, it’s awfully tough to stick that landing.