Combining gearhead TV with the “Don’t try this at home” warnings of “Jackass,” “Jesse James Is a Dead Man” proves a pretty pallid version of Evel Knievel’s daredevil antics of yore. The “Monster Garage” star has a “thirst for death,” we’re told, which inspires him in the premiere to ride a supercharged “nitro bike” and subject himself to a flight in a military jet, where the G-force might cause him to pass out. Most will lack the desire to watch this at home, much less try it, but for a hardcore, testosterone-fueled guy crowd, the show should be a dead-on hit.
Spike has ordered 10 episodes of the series, and not to give anything away about James’ mortality, but there will be at least a second episode. There is, however, a strange obsession with death and dismemberment on the male-oriented channel (see “1000 Ways to Die” and “Deadliest Warrior”) that suggests the target audience may be vicariously suicidal as well as homicidal.
As with “Deadliest Warrior,” the main problem is that the show is pretty much all foreplay, building toward the moment when James finally rides the super-duper motorcycle and (potentially) dies. In between, there are elaborate computer-generated demonstrations of the technology and various tune-up exercises (the plane ride being one of them), but frankly, the show would work considerably better with two stunts per hour instead of padding out the process.
Then again, that would double James’ chances of becoming a you-know-what, and the folks insuring this enterprise would probably frown on that. As a consequence, “Jesse James Is a Dead Man” takes its sweet time before the main event, which at least in the premiere feels a trifle anticlimactic, though James certainly does his best to convey the adrenaline rush associated with it.
In short, for better or (mostly) worse, there’s a demonstrable audience for this sort of program. Let’s just hope they’re not too disappointed if the series doesn’t make good on its title.