Depending on one’s perspective, this is either the perfect time or an awful one for “Shark Tank,” an adaptation of the Japanese series “Dragons’ Den,” which sends aspiring entrepreneurs in search of capital to pitch five brutally honest business executives. I found educational value in the process but also plenty to dislike about the talent — beginning with Kevin O’Leary, whose fortune-cookie wisdom (“Never insult money,” or “You’re pigs. Pigs get slaughtered”) makes you want to respond, “And you’re an irritating windbag. Can wealth cure that?”
Produced by Mark Burnett, Phil Gurin and Clay Newbill, the series has a crisp look and feel reminiscent of Burnett’s “The Apprentice,” but there’s relatively little to get viewers invested in those venturing into the so-called tank. Part of this disconnect may be the nature of Japanese reality shows, where public humiliation is frequently a crucial element. (Viewers of BBC America may be familiar with the English version of “Dragons’ Den.”)
Here, some of those moments are slightly uncomfortable, if perhaps necessary. One contestant is told to “stop this madness” of mortgaging his house in order to pursue developing an ill-conceived product. It is, as one exec mutters almost under his breath, “the dark side” of the American dream.
On the other hand, ABC is really just tapping into an “American Idol”-meets-big-business hybrid that the network previously explored in “American Inventor” — at a point in history where the world is sifting through the damage inflicted by high-flying hucksters who played fast and loose with financial rules.
“Don’t cry about money. It never cries for you,” mutual-fund manager-entrepreneur O’Leary — the love-him-or-hate-him standout here, for better and mostly worse — counsels one candidate.
But those who put their trust in O’Leary types currently have plenty about which to cry. “Shark Tank” reminds us that swimming among these big fishes isn’t for the faint of heart, but it finally sends a mixed message — namely, that with a little drive, some dumb luck and a willingness to get bloodied, you too can become like the platitude-spouting jerks on the other side of the table.
So is “Shark Tank” cathartic, or merely depressing? Perhaps appropriately, it’s a little of both.